Nigeria's military is pressing ahead with its offensive against rebels in a bid to re-establish order in the country's oil-rich Niger Delta. A military spokesman says soldiers are combing the creeks of the delta to flush out militants and wipe out militancy in the region.
The army says it will continue to fight criminal gangs in the Niger Delta until militants, whose criminal activities have hurt the country's oil production, are neutralized. Colonel Rabe Abubakar speaks for the special military force in the Niger Delta.
"Our actions as far as this operation is concerned is to get rid of the criminals in our midst, so that we will free the communities - the locals, the expatriates working here and everybody - from the mayhem that these people have been causing here," said Colonel Abubakar.
Analysts predict fighting could continue for weeks as the military seeks to capture or kill militants and regain control of the region's oil resources. Clashes between militants and security forces since last week are the heaviest in several months and began after the hijacking of two oil vessels and attacks on troops in Delta state.
Local media reported that the army bombed villages as they pursued armed gangs in the region, destroying buildings and killing dozens of civilians in the process. Colonel Abubakar denies the accusation. He says the army is only interested in dislodging the militants.
"Anybody who says we attacked a community let him come and show us which community we attacked," he said. "We are raiding, based on our information, the militants' hideouts and arms dumps. The essence is to secure the region. We are not targeting any group, or any community or individual. We are targeting criminals who carried out these heinous, uncivilized and barbaric attacks."
The Niger Delta is home to the world's eighth-biggest oil industry, but rebels have led a campaign of sabotage since early 2006 to push demand for greater control of oil revenues.
Nigeria's main militant group declared "all-out war" on Friday after security forces used gunboats to try to flush its fighters out of the creeks. The group says it plans to block key channels for oil vessels to increase pressure on Nigeria's troubled oil and gas industry.