The Nigerian army has not ruled out reprisals following last weekend's ambush by oil rebels in which three soldiers were killed. Residents fearing they will bear the first brunt of army reprisals are fleeing en masse. Gilbert da Costa has more for VOA in this report from Abuja.
The Nigerian military is investigating five corpses found floating in the Nembe creeks on Monday, two days after three soldiers and four civilians went missing when a boat in which they were traveling was attacked by suspected militants along the Nembe creeks in Bayelsa state in Nigeria's oil producing Niger Delta.
The ambush came a few days after rebels raided a navy facility and killed a sailor.
Army spokesman Brigadier General Emeka Onwuamaebu warns oil rebels could face the army's wrath if the trend continues.
"They [militants] should desist from killing soldiers who are there to protect the resources in that region and if they continue, and we have orders to change tactics in dealing with them, then they will have themselves to blame," said Brigadier Onwuamaebu.
Attacks on oil industry and security forces protecting them are common in the region. Reprisals have been administered by the army against local communities after similar attacks in the past, forcing Nembe residents to flee a possible army crackdown.
Nigerian newspapers are reporting that soldiers have cordoned off Obioko community in Nembe, where the ambushed occurred, ostensibly to recover bodies of the slain soldiers and apprehend the attackers.
President Umaru Yar'Adua ordered the army to reinforce its' security presence in the oil-producing region after the Bonga oilfield and terminal, one of Nigeria's key oil-exporting outlets was attacked recently.
Nigeria's government has struggled to contain militants who began attacking the country's oil infrastructure and kidnapping oil workers two years ago.
The violence has crippled Nigeria's oil production leading to a 25 percent reduction compared with peak daily crude output of 2.6 million barrels.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the most prominent armed group in Nigeria, has threatened more acts of sabotage against the oil industry.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has pledged to provide training and support to the Nigerian military to improve security in the Niger Delta.