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Nigerian Militants Destroy Oil Pipeline

Nigerian militants say they have destroyed an oil pipeline in the restive Niger Delta, the fourth attack on installations in the past 48 hours. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja has been following up on developments in the oil-rich region and filed this report for VOA.

Newly appointed Nigerian chief of defense staff, Marshall Paul Dike, arrived in the main oil city of Port Harcourt to bolster his troops in their campaign against oil rebels.

The main rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, says it may extend its attacks to deep offshore facilities and other targets outside Rivers state.

In an e-mail to journalists, the group said it blew up another major oil pipeline and has forged a partnership with other armed groups to face, as it put it, a common enemy.

But the spokesman for the Defense headquarters in Abuja, General Mohammed Yusuf, dismissed the threat as propaganda and said the military authorities are taking counter measures to neutralize the rebels.

"They [the rebels] have been carrying out a propaganda war to frighten law-abiding citizens and foreigners alike. And then they have attempted to close some [oil] flow stations, but the JTF [the Joint Task Force of the military] are doing counter measures to make sure they put their activities in check," said Yusuf.

The presence of the military's top commander in the region suggests the attacks on oil facilities and military targets are being taken very seriously by the government.

Militants launched a new offensive last weekend following what they said was an unprovoked attack on them in Rivers state.

The militants have ordered oil companies to evacuate their personnel to avoid attacks.

The kidnapping of oil workers and sabotage of oil facilities have crippled Nigeria's crude production by more than 20 percent during the past two years. The West African nation currently exports around two million barrels of crude daily.

Nigeria is the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports. Militants say they are fighting for a greater share of the region's huge oil wealth.