The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Nigeria?s main militant group, said Wednesday oil companies in the region have 24 hours to evacuate their staff or face attack.In a statement, the group reportedly called on its fighters to unleash what it calls a horrible toll on the oil industry and the Nigerian economy.  

MEND also said its fighters inflicted several casualties on the Nigerian military during a Wednesday attack on two of its camps in Delta State. 

Colonel Rabe Abubakar, spokesman for the Nigerian military?s Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta, told VOA Nigerian nationals and expatriates in the region should go about their normal business without fear of any militant attack.

?What we are saying is this, Nigerians resident in this part of the country, the expatriates working in both construction and oil companies are advised by the Joint Task Force and other security agencies that they should go about their normal businesses unmolested and unharassed. The security agencies are on top of the situation, and that they should go about their normal business without fear of anything. However, they are advised to?report any artificial movement of persons around their homes to JTF (Joint Task Force) and any other security agency for prompt action,? he said.

MEND claimed Wednesday the Nigerian army launched attacks on two of its camps in Delta State, but that it repelled the attacks by sinking two army gunboats and inflicted casualties on the military.

Abubakar confirmed an encounter with the militants took place and that two army troops were injured. But he said all task force gunboats were intact.

?We are not in any way trying to wage war, but in order for the record to be put strict, what happened was last week Saturday we were able to arrest some bandits, and the troops who were guarding the bandits were sent to other location. We were trying to send some new group to go and take over from them that?s how the militants ambushed us and injured two of our soldiers. I?m assuring you that all our gunboats are intact, and those guys who were injured were evacuated to Warri in an undisclosed hospital for treatment,? Abubakar said.

He said the army has never been the aggressor even when militants killed government soldiers. Abubakar said the Joint Task Force exists only to protect property and lives.

?The military task force here is to protect the lives and property of innocent citizens and then protect the economic assets and other important valuable key points. And that?s exactly what we?re doing here. We have a mandate which doesn?t allow us to be offensive. But we are always on the defensive. If we are attacked, we are mandated to defend ourselves using minimal force,? Abubakar said.

MEND also reportedly said Wednesday it was considering freeing British hostage Matthew Maguire who was taken hostage in September.

Abubakar said Maguire?s release would be a welcome development.