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Financial Times: Nigerian military launches attack on targets in the Delta

By Dino Mahtani in Abuja
Published: February 16 2006 19:35 | Last updated: February 16 2006 19:35
A Nigerian militant group has threatened to escalate its campaign against the government and oil producers after the country’s military launched an attack on targets in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
Military officials said a helicopter gunship equipped with rocket launchers attacked about eight barges used to smuggle stolen crude oil on Wednesday after spotting them on a routine flight in the western delta. The government says it is trying to cut down on oil theft, known locally as “bunkering”.
Militants said local villages had been randomly sprayed with machine gun fire. No casualty figures are available. The operation coincided with a visit by Jack Straw, UK foreign minister, to the delta, where he met oil industry officials to discuss security issues.
The operation followed a recent surge in militant attacks against oil facilities in the delta that forced a ten per cent cut in Nigerian production and killed several soldiers. Four foreign oil workers were also taken hostage, though later released.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), a group which claimed responsibility for recent attacks and the kidnapping, denounced the military operation.
Mend claims to be fighting for the rights of the delta’s majority tribe, the Ijaw. Many Ijaw leaders say they have been politically marginalised while their oil wealth has been stolen from them. But some security analysts believe MEND could be acting on behalf of shadowy but influential political figures.
Industry officials suspect the recent sabotage to a crude pipeline supplying a major refinery in the delta could have been linked to the attack on the barges.
The delta is awash with armed groups who sustain their arsenals on the proceeds of stolen crude. But many armed groups are mixed up in bunkering cartels that involve security officials and political figures, industry officials say.
In a separate development Nigeria’s largest oil producer Shell was on Thursday forced to close an oilflow station in the eastern Delta after a fire broke out in a nearby oil well forcing the closure of a platform handling almost 38,000 barrels per day.

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