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Nigeria's army says it will continue to beef up security around oil facilities in the Niger Delta to forestall illegal lifting of crude oil. Suspected oil thieves have increased attacks on oil facilities.
The special military force in the Niger Delta, known as the Joint Task Force, says its strategy of fighting a network of criminal gangs involved in crude oil theft remains unchanged, despite a recent amnesty granted to militants by the government.
Military spokesman Timothy Atinga tells VOA some suspects have been arrested and investigations are ongoing to establish suspects behind the massive oil theft in the Niger Delta.
"On the issue of illegal oil bunkering, the Joint Task Force is doing so much in that regard," said Atinga. "Of recent, some people have been arrested with illegally bunkered crude oil. Investigations are ongoing to know who are the people who are sponsoring them."
Reports from the region suggest suspected oil thieves have sabotaged oil facilities in a bid to steal crude oil. Royal Dutch Shell, the biggest oil company in Nigeria, has reported five separate incidents in the past three months.
Criminal networks in the Niger Delta earn millions of dollars a day from an illegal trade in industrial quantities of stolen crude, known locally as "bunkering."
A report commissioned for the Nigerian government estimated the amount of crude stolen by criminal gangs could be up to 300,000 barrels a day. The stolen oil is transferred on barges to tankers waiting offshore before being mixed in with legitimate cargo and sold on the international market.
Violence has subsided during the past four months in the Niger Delta, after thousands of gunmen accepted President Umaru Yar'Adua's unconditional amnesty and disarmed. But activists and skeptics fear more and more former militants could easily turn to oil bunkering if the government fails to quickly find them work or a new way of life.
Oil industry operations and the pollution it brought destroyed traditional livelihoods such as fishing and farming, leaving the region with youth unemployment of more than 80 percent, the highest in Nigeria, according to official figures.