Britain to train army in Nigeria to combat delta rebels

Gordon Brown will offer British help to the Nigerian government – to fight rebels in the oil-producing Niger delta – at a meeting in London next week with President Umaru Yar'Adua, Downing Street said.

The prospect of British intervention in the delta conflict has prompted the end of a ceasefire in the region and drawn accusations of neo-colonialism from rebel groups. They also accuse the Nigerian government of illegal actions.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the focus will be on providing training for the Nigerian military. He said: "Oil supply from Nigeria has been undermined by insecurity in the Niger delta. This is bad for the local population, bad for workers, bad for the Nigerian government and the stability of the whole region. The President of Nigeria is visiting London next week and the Prime Minister will have an opportunity to discuss these issues with him then."

Mr Brown's statement on Wednesday that Britain stood "ready to give help to the Nigerians to deal with the lawlessness that exists in this area and to achieve levels of production that Nigeria is capable of", led to a rebel group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) to say it will call off its ceasefire today.

In another blow to the prospect of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the delta, a senior UN official chosen by Nigeria to organise peace talks resigned after militant groups questioned his neutrality. Ibrahim Gambari, a special adviser to the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, was Nigeria's envoy to the United Nations in 1995 when the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other oil activists were hanged by the military government of Sani Abacha.

Mr Gambari had said he would seek a 90-day truce with militants to pave the way for formal talks but Mend and other groups had rejected his involvement, saying he had defended Mr Abacha's actions against international condemnation.

But he said yesterday: "My name has become the issue in place of the attempt at finding a just and lasting solution to the crisis in the Niger delta. In light of this, I wish to be excused as the chairman of the steering committee of the summit."

Meanwhile, the Nigerian media have reported movements of government troops to the region. Most of the soldiers have been deployed to take over existing checkpoints in the city of Yenagoa and its environs, while new ones are being created at strategic locations in and around Yenagoa.

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