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Violence Between Rival Ethnic Groups in Nigeria Leaves 30 Dead - 2003-08-19

Fighting between two ethnic groups in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria has raged for four days, leading to at least 30 reported deaths and many more displaced.

The Nigerian government has sent in reinforcement troops to patrol the Niger Delta. It hopes the soldiers will manage to keep the two fighting communities apart.

The conflict between the Ijaw and Itsekiri groups has caused at least 30 deaths in the last four days displaced an estimated 3,000 other people. The two communities are involved in a long-standing territorial dispute that regularly flares into violence.

This latest clash erupted Friday. Although by Monday night it was reported to be calm, there was sporadic gunfire reported Tuesday morning.

All commercial activity in the area has come to a halt, and shops, banks and offices remain empty and locked.

According to on-the-ground reports, this is the most serious fighting in the area since March. Then, ethnic clashes in the region lead to dozens of deaths and forced multinational oil giants to curtail operations in the area.

Their withdrawal from the Niger Delta saw oil prices fluctuate on the international markets.

The Niger Delta is seen as a difficult operating environment. Local youth groups regularly take oil workers hostage - their motivation usually a plea for jobs.

Pipelines are regularly vandalized by impoverished residents who risk their lives for the money they can earn by siphoning off fuel. Vandalism is estimated to result in thousands of barrels of crude oil wastage every day - and a loss to the Nigerian economy of millions of U.S. dollars each year.

However, oil companies, too, have had a checkered history of involvement in the region. Environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa was executed in 1996 by the then military government of Nigeria for his outspoken criticism of oil companies in the Niger Delta. Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil-producing nation. However, mismanagement and the greed of successive military governments have been blamed for leaving Nigerians impoverished.