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Nigerian Rebels Attack Oil Pipeline

Nigerian militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta appear committed to making good their threat to cripple the country's oil industry. The rebel group says it attacked a major pipeline in southern Nigeria, one day after declaring an "oil war." Gilbert da Costa in Abuja has more for VOA.

The main rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, says it blew up and destroyed an oil pipeline operated by Shell in the restive Niger Delta.

The Nigerian army says it repelled what it described as an attempt to sabotage the Shell installation.

MEND declared a total onslaught against the beleaguered oil industry in response to deadly raids by the military on its positions on Saturday.

The group has launched a series of attacks on oil facilities and security forces in the region in the past three days.

A human-rights campaigner who is monitoring the impact of the violence on the civilian population, Sofiri Peterside, says although fighting has subsided, tensions are still very high in the affected communities.

"I would not say military operations have stopped. Shell, that has a station very close to the place, Alakiri, has withdrawn over 1,000 of its staff and shut down operations. And the military helicopters are still flying over the community," said Peterside. "There is no confrontation going on as we are talking, but for the military, they are in a state of alert within that area and even within Port Harcourt."

MEND said it would soon release two South Africans who were among 27 people the group said were rescued from pirates on Friday. The group said the release was in response to an appeal from Azukah Okah, wife of Henry Okah, one of the group's leaders currently facing a treason trial in Nigeria.

The kidnapping of oil workers and sabotage of oil facilities have slowed Nigeria's crude production by about 25 percent during the past two years.

Though Nigeria has Africa's largest hydrocarbon reserves, it has been overtaken by Angola as the continent's biggest oil exporter because of the violent disruptions.