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NYC trial date for claims against Shell


NEW YORK (AP) — Victims of the Nigerian government’s violent 1990s-era crackdown on residents of oil-rich lands where Royal Dutch Shell had drilling operations may finally reach their goal to challenge the deaths and injuries in a U.S. court.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood set a Feb. 9 trial date for a trial of racketeering claims accusing Royal Dutch Shell PLC of being complicit in decisions by Nigeria’s military government to hang oil industry opponents.

During a hearing Tuesday, Wood tried to resolve lingering issues of dispute but conceded that there might have to be two separate trials because issues related to one lawsuit are still pending before an appeals court.

Playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and at least five other oil industry opponents were executed in 1995, after a military tribunal convicted them of murdering four political rivals. Their heirs filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan the next year.

The plaintiffs contend the victims were tried by an illegally constituted military tribunal and falsely convicted of murder.

Saro-Wiwa and other activists had been protesting oil exploration and development in Nigeria’s Ogoni region, saying the activity had profoundly damaged the environment.

Shell was a major driller in the oil-rich region. The lawsuit alleged Shell made payments and provided arms to security forces that it knew abused local communities.

Wood said she must still rule whether the plaintiffs can introduce at trial an internal Shell report that they say goes to the heart of their case.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Carey R. D’Avino said it included the results of interviews with Shell employees about disturbances in Nigeria and Shell’s relationship with the Nigerian government and its military.

According to D’Avino, the document says Shell’s “mode of operation in Nigeria exacerbates conflicts in the local communities.”

Thomas Rafferty, a lawyer for the Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. and Shell Transport and Trading Co. PLC, said the report should be disqualified from use at trial because it was prepared long after the events at issue in the case occurred.

He said Shell oil production in Ogoni ended in the early 1990s. D’Avino said there are still Shell facilities in Nigeria, however.

Militants have waged a campaign of attacks on oil installations in Nigeria in recent years, seeking to force the nation’s government to send more oil-industry revenues to their impoverished areas.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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