"Village Women Demand Signed Document Before Leaving
Besieged ChevronTexaco Terminal"
By D'ARCY DORAN
ESCRAVOS, Nigeria (AP) - Two days after verbally agreeing to end their occupation of a ChevronTexaco terminal, hundreds of village women remained holed up inside the Escravos export facility Wednesday, refusing to leave until ChevronTexaco negotiators present them with a final document for both parties to sign.
"Chevron has said they were going to come, but we are still waiting. We want to settle now," Anunu Uwawah, one of the women's negotiators, said Wednesday morning.
Several hundred workers left in a ferry Tuesday morning, leaving just a few dozen of the original 700 trapped inside the southeastern Nigerian terminal, Uwawah said.
The women also permitted ChevronTexaco employees back into the facility's control room on Monday night so they could load two tankers with oil at offshore points on Tuesday, the workers said.
Village chiefs threw a sudden twist into the deal Tuesday by insisting it be modified to include long-term contracts, such as deals to paint and repair the terminal, said Victor Omunu, a spokesman for the women, most of whom do not speak English. It was unclear whether the demand would jeopardize the end of the occupation.
The unarmed 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 is also willing to build schools, provide water, electricity and a community center, and help the women establish poultry and fish farms to supply the terminal's cafeteria.
The women said they would wait until the agreement was put in writing and signed before leaving the facility.
The company did not say what was causing the delay and ChevronTexaco officials could not be immediately reached Wednesday morning.
Wole Agunbiade, a spokesman for ChevronTexaco's Nigerian subsidiary, confirmed Tuesday the two parties were "close to an agreement" and that the company had regained access to the control room. He did not elaborate.
"There is a gradual return to normalcy," ChevronTexaco said in a Tuesday statement.
Dozens of soldiers armed with assault rifles who had been deployed on the Escravos dock in recent days were gone Tuesday. In their place stood two unarmed policemen and two soldiers.
The takeover trapped hundreds of American, Canadian, British and Nigerian oil workers inside the facility. About 200 of them were allowed to leave on Sunday and hundreds more two days later.
It also shut down the terminal, which exports half a million barrels of oil daily and accounts for the bulk of the company's Nigeria production.
The women, ranging in age from 30 to 90, used a traditional and powerful shaming gesture to maintain control over the facility and the hostages - they threatened to remove their own clothing.
Niger Delta residents are among the poorest in this West African country, despite 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's protest was 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.
The struggle between international oil firms and local communities in Nigeria drew international attention in the mid-1990s, when violent protests by the tiny Ogoni tribe forced Shell to abandon its wells on their land.
The late dictator Gen. Sani Abacha responded in 1995 by hanging nine Ogoni leaders, including writer Ken Saro Wiwa - triggering international outrage and Nigeria's expulsion from the British Commonwealth.