Militants in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta said yesterday they would end a ceasefire from midnight (2300 GMT) tomorrow in protest at a British offer to help tackle lawlessness in the region.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday that Britain was ready to help the world's eight biggest oil exporter deal with unrest that has hit output from the delta, the hub of its two million barrels per day (bpd) oil industry.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the main militant group which has carried out a campaign of violent sabotage in the region since early 2006, said it was angry at Britain's offer of help to President Umaru Yar'Adua.

"MEND wishes to sound a stern warning to the British Prime Minister over his recent statement offering to provide military support to the illegal government of Umaru Yar'Adua," the group said in an e-mailed statement.

"To demonstrate our seriousness to the UK support of an injustice, MEND will be calling off its unilateral ceasefire with effect from midnight, tomorrow," it said.

Britain was the colonial ruler of Nigeria until 1960.

Mr Brown said at the Group of Eight summit meeting in Japan that Britain stood ready to give help to the Nigerians "to deal with the lawlessness" and that he would be meeting Mr Yar'Adua in London next week. He did not publicly mention military support.

The bombing of pipelines and kidnapping of oil workers in the delta's creeks have cut Nigeria's oil production by abound a fifth since early 2006, helping to push world oil prices to record highs.

Mr Yar'Adua, also in Japan this week for a G8 gathering with African leaders, called for a global clampdown on the theft and smuggling of crude oil, an international trade which is fuelling unrest in the Niger Delta.

MEND said the unrest was a result of more than five decades of oil exploitation which had helped other parts of Nigeria to develop while the delta remained mired in poverty.

"The UK is part of this problem with the politics it played pre-independence that gave leverage to some sections of the country which has helped in marginalising and exploiting the region today," the group said.

"Should Gordon Brown make good his threat to support this criminality for the sake of oil, UK citizens and interests in Nigeria will suffer the consequences," it said.

Mr Yar'Adua has said his administration will take a two-pronged approach to the unrest, pledging development for communities whose land and water has been polluted by oil extraction but also saying he will not tolerate the presence of armed groups.

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