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[Published: Monday July 07 2008]

Nigeria to end 'blood oil'

Toyako , Japan,08 July-(ANA)- An international cartel of oil smugglers stealsbillions of dollars in "blood oil" from Nigeria, trading it for guns, PresidentUmaru YarAdua has said.

Speaking at the G8 summit in Japan,President Yar'Adua drew comparisonsbetween oil "bunkering" and the trade in "blood diamonds".

He said an internationaleffort must be made to stop the trade, which fuelled unrest in the Niger Delta.

The conflict means Nigeria is no longer Africa'slargest oil exporter.

Militant attacks in the Deltahave reduced production by around a quarter, allowing Angola to overtake Nigeria.

But no-one really knowsexactly how much oil is pumped out of the ground, according to a Senate inquiryset up in March.

The smuggling cartel includesofficials at the Nigerian state oil company, government, the military andinternational oil companies, according to Delta activists.

Trying to stop the trade mustbe an international effort, the president says, because the people driving themarket are companies looking for cheap crude to feed international markets.

"Stolen crude should betreated like stolen diamonds because they both generate blood money,"President Yar'Adua said.

"Like what is now knownas 'blood diamonds', stolen crude also aids corruption, violence and canprovoke war."

The trade in diamonds helpedfuel the conflicts in Sierra Leoneand Angola,prompting campaigners to put pressure on the industry to tighten regulations.

A Rivers Stategovernment spokesman told the BBC it was time to crack down on theinternational members of the cartel.

"Some smart alec comes to Nigeriawith a vessel partly loaded with guns, partly with cash," said OgbonnaNwuke.

"In return, he gets cheapoil and delivers the weapons to some boys who think they're fighting the NigerDelta cause."

"The result isconfusion."

But activists in the Delta saythere is no way oil smuggling could be done without the compliance of corruptelements of the Nigerian state.

"I have never seen thisbunkering business as an illegal thing," says Anyakwee Nsirimovu, a PortHarcourt-based human rights lawyer.

"For God's sake, thewaters around Nigeriaare not a free area, where you can just pass without anyone asking anyquestions."

In order for tankers to dockand receive oil from boats coming from the creeks, there must be a high levelof involvement from government and the military, he says.

"They are making billionsof dollars and they don't want this thing to end." (ANA)

FA/ANA/08 July 2008---

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