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Nigerian Christians Fast, Pray for Peace in Niger Delta

Nigerian Christians are gathered in the Niger Delta city of Warri to fast and pray with the hope that peace and stability will be restored in the Niger Delta.

Thousands of Christian worshippers sing at the special prayer session for peace in the Niger Delta. Some Nigerian Christians are deeply troubled by the fighting between the army and militants, and its effect on the region.

Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed and thousands displaced as a result of the conflict, most of them have found refuge with family and friends, but many can be found in government-organized refugee camps. Niger Delta's 20 million inhabitants are predominantly Christians.

Pastor Agbaje Ezekiel, of the Christ Apostolic Church in Warri, told VOA the conflict in the Niger Delta and the tragedy of displaced people are a source of concern to the church.

"We've been praying since the beginning of this week, Monday, when we saw what was happening in the creeks. All over there people are running helter-skelter and they are our people as well," he said. "We need to have concern and say Lord come down and restore peace and joy back to Delta state."

The Catholic Church in Nigeria launched a drive to raise funds for the victims of the conflict last Sunday.

Nigeria's two-week old military offensive in the Niger Delta was to restore stability in the oil-rich region after three years of anarchy.

The military have vowed to push on with the offensive which has forced hundreds to flee their villages, until a dozen missing soldiers, believed to have been captured by militants, or their bodies, are found.

Attacks on oil facilities and workers have cut oil production in Nigeria, one of the world's largest crude oil exporters, by around 20 percent since 2006.

Some leaders of the Ijaw ethnic group, the largest in the Niger Delta, say civilians have been killed during the current operation. The military denies that civilians were targeted.