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Militants in Nigeria's Oil Region Claim New Strike


Militants in Nigeria's volatile, but oil-rich, Niger Delta say they have struck again, just days after abducting a group of foreign oil workers. The recent wave of kidnappings and sabotage has cut oil exports from sub-Saharan Africa's largest producer by one-fifth.

A statement by the militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, claims its fighters blew up a Nigerian navy vessel and attacked an oil facility in the oil-rich southeast.

Nigerian military officials and representatives of Royal Dutch Shell, the company that operates the sabotaged pipeline, were not available to comment on the alleged attacks. The new claims of violence come three days after nine oil workers employed by the U.S.-based oil services firm Willbros were kidnapped by militants claiming to belong to the group.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, known as MEND, has warned that such action will continue. It is demanding the release of two prominent Ijaw ethnic leaders. Both are being held in federal custody. The militants held four foreign oil workers for several weeks last month before releasing them.

Nigerian oil analyst Tunde Martins says MEND differs from many other Niger Delta militant groups, which often warn of impending violence, but seldom follow through.

"The fact that they were able to make real their threats shows that it is a serious group of hostage takers," he said.

Martins says the decision by the federal government to create a special military task force to combat the militants has yielded few results and could even aggravate the situation.

"I think the government has to go back to its drawing board, because if the Nigerian government were to react militarily to the threat of these hostage takers, it would have resulted into a lot of bloodshed," he added.

The last hostages were released unharmed, apparently in exchange for cash. This latest round of violence has caused oil production in Nigeria, one of the worlds top-10 petroleum producing nations, to drop by 20 percent. Prices on the world market have also risen by around $1.5 per barrel.

The Niger Delta has long been a flash point of violent unrest and ethnic clashes. Armed groups demand a greater share of the oil wealth pumped from the delta region. They also seek reparations from foreign oil companies for widespread environmental destruction.