Ethnic fighting continued Monday in the town of Warri in the southeast of Nigeria following a weekend of clashes between ethnic Ijaws and Itsekeris. Security forces imposed a dawn to dusk curfew in an effort to end the violence.
The outburst of tribal violence is taking place in the southeastern city of Warri, a major port on the Niger Delta, and a regional hub for foreign-based oil exporters, such as Shell and ChevronTexaco.
Fighting between the majority Ijaw and minority Itsekeri communities has been escalating since March, as both have vied for increased political control and land rights.
Both communities have been used by various political factions, which have armed Ijaws and Itsekeris in order to cement control of the oil rich Niger Delta. That region currently produces some of the finest crude oil in the world.
Reports from Warri of dead bodies lining the streets and of shots being fired all over the city by rampaging militia armed with guns and machetes have been confirmed but it has yet been impossible to confirm the exact death count. In the meantime the Nigerian national army started imposing a curfew in the city.
The latest violence was said to have originated with an Ijaw attack on a local Itsekeri village on Friday, and escalated from there.
The Ijaws are opposed to the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, which, they claim, is doling out political patronage to Itsekeris as a way of splitting the opposition and dominating the region by proxy, thereby controlling oil revenues.
The last time violence between Ijaws and Itsekeris flared up earlier this year, hundreds of people were killed and oil companies had to evacuate staff. Nigeria lost more than 40 percent of its oil revenue during the rebellion.
A member of OPEC, Nigeria is the world's eighth largest oil exporter, producing more than two million barrels of crude a day. Ethnic and religious clashes in Nigeria have claimed over 10,000 lives since the country moved to democracy about five years ago.