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Army Confirms Casualties as Violence Flares in Nigeria

Renewed violence in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta has reportedly killed nine soldiers in the latest firefight involving militants and government troops.

The Nigerian army confirms it suffered casualties in clashes with delta militants this week. The Nigerian militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, said it killed nine soldiers and seized two military boats during a 90-minute shoot out with troops Wednesday in the Niger Delta.

But army spokesman Ayo Olaniyan will not comment on the number of soldiers killed by militants.

"As far as the exact number of soldiers we have lost in that operation, I am not in a position to tell you because we have been waiting for confirmation of how many soldiers we have lost. But, certainly we have suffered some casualties," he said.

The group has also ordered oil companies in the area to leave the delta immediately or risk further attacks on their facilities and personnel.

The escalating violence in the oil heartland of the world's eighth-largest oil exporter has prompted President Olusegun Obasanjo to summon military commanders to Abuja to discuss the growing insecurity.

The violence has reduced Nigeria oil production by about 800,000 barrels per day and the West African country cannot afford a further production cut.

Colonel Olaniyan says the military will step up its security operations in the region.

"Regardless of the casualties, regardless of what has happened; the loss of our soldiers, the determination is on the high to ensure that their mission is accomplished, and that is to curtail the criminal activities of the militants and to protect the national treasures that are in these areas, to protect lives and property of law-abiding Nigerians and foreigners who are in the Niger Delta area and that exactly is what is going to be done," he continued.

Armed men attacked a facility belonging to the Shell Oil Company in Rivers state last Monday, killing 14 soldiers and kidnapping 25 workers, who were later released.

Another group of seven expatriates, including three British oil workers, were kidnapped late Tuesday and are still being held.

Armed attacks against expatriates in the restive region have increased tremendously since the beginning of this year.