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Nigeria: Women Take Over Four More Facilities

ESCRAVOS, Nigeria (AP) - Hundreds of unarmed women seized control of at least four more ChevronTexaco facilities in the Niger Delta Wednesday, even as the 10-day occupation of an oil terminal by other village women ended.
The occupations were spurred at least in part by the crushing poverty in which villagers live amid the region's oil wealth. Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest exporter of oil and the fifth-largest supplier to the United States.

The women involved in the latest takeovers, all members of the Ijaw tribe, were refusing to leave until they had met with senior company executives to press their demands for jobs and community improvements.

"We are going to sit here until Chevron sends its managing director to us, even if it takes two years," said Josephine Ogoba, a protest leader. She said the women now controlled five facilities.

ChevronTexaco's Nigeria subsidiary confirmed takeovers at four flowstations near the villages of Abiteye, Makaraba, Olero Creek and Otunana, but company officials had no information on a reported occupation at Opueketa.

The women's protests were a departure for Nigeria, where armed men frequently use kidnapping and sabotage to pressure oil multinationals into giving them jobs, protection money or compensation for alleged environmental damage. Hostages generally are released unharmed.

Ogoba said the women had not tampered with equipment at the facilities, but it was not clear whether they were still operating.

The latest actions mirrored a 10-day occupation of the multimillion-dollar Escravos terminal, some 50 miles to the west.

But Ogoba said the protests were unrelated. There was a buoyant mood Wednesday afternoon at Escravos after ChevronTexaco executives and women's representatives signed a seven-page memorandum to end that siege.

The signing came two days after both sides reached a verbal agreement in which the company promised to provide jobs and amenities for nearby villagers. ChevronTexaco even promised to throw a party Friday for the women, their families and neighbors to thank them for not damaging equipment at the facility, said Eghare Ojogor, chief of the nearby Ugborodo village.

"We are delighted that this crisis has been resolved peacefully through dialogue, even though the process has been very painstaking," Jay Pryor, chairman and managing director of Chevron Nigeria Ltd., said in a statement.

Only a few dozen of the initial 700 American, Canadian, British and Nigerian oil workers trapped inside the Escravos terminal remained on Wednesday. About 200 workers were allowed to leave on Sunday, and hundreds more departed in a ferry Tuesday morning, protesters said.

Kingsley Kuku, spokesman of the Ijaw Youth Council, said the latest takeovers were also aimed at gaining control of oil facilities in Ijaw territory that the tribe feared might otherwise be claimed by the newly victorious women at Escravos.

Although the Escravos protesters include women from several different ethnic groups, the core group is of the rival Itsekiri tribe.

"Our women are without fear. They are participating actively in our struggle and have embarked on this action without the use of arms, not even brooms," Kuku said. He warned that Ijaw men would "burn down all Chevron oil facilities" if police or soldiers tried to forcibly remove the women or otherwise harmed them.

Protesters at the Abiteye flowstation, however, said they were only interested in jobs and amenities — not tribal disputes. Ethnic divisions appeared to have emerged, however, among the several hundred protesters at Escravos. Anino Olowu, one of their representatives, said squabbles between Itsekiris and other tribes needed to be resolved before the women vacated the plant.

The women, some with babies bound to their backs, sang and danced on the facility's docks Monday when they learned the company had offered to hire at least 25 villagers over five years. The company said it was also willing to build schools, provide water, electricity, a community center, and help the women establish poultry and fish farms to supply the terminal's cafeteria.



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