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The Telegraph: Nigerian militants step up attacks and threaten president

By Charles Pym in Lagos
(Filed: 21/02/2006)
Militia fighters carried out a series of fresh attacks on Nigeria's oil installations yesterday, blowing up Shell Oil pipelines and a houseboat used by soldiers.
Two days after kidnapping nine oil workers, including a Briton, John Hudspith, the attacks by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) raised the pressure on Shell and other major producers in the region.
These companies account for most of the country's daily output of 2.4 million barrels of crude oil.
Violence has shut down more than a fifth of Nigeria's oil production but much more could still be affected.
Two militia fighters were killed in a gunfight during the hostage-taking and the army has confirmed that 14 of its men also died. Since then, the military has not launched any fresh offensives despite the new militia attacks.
A ringleader of the militants said that they killed 11 soldiers in a 40-minute gun battle near Shell's Chanomi Creek hub of pipelines yesterday, although this could not immediately be confirmed by the army.
A Shell spokesman, Lisa Givert, confirmed the pipeline attack but said the houseboat was abandoned when it was blown up. It was unclear who owned the boat.
The militants also gave warning that it would kill President Olusegun Obasanjo if he entered the region. The government did not comment.
“We are declaring a war on Obasanjo,” a spokesman said. “We will attack and kill him should he venture into the Niger Delta for any reason.”
The group also threatened to attack a Shell Oil tanker “and execute everyone on board”.
There were conflicting reports on the health of the hostages. One of three Americans has high blood pressure and is “seriously sick”, said the militia ringleader, on condition of anonymity.
A Mend spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said they were all in good health.
“But we received intelligence reports that in spite of our attacks and warnings Shell continues to operate in the Forcados area,” he said in an e-mail.
Nigeria is the world's eighth largest oil exporter, and accounts for 10 per cent of America's oil imports.
Shell has shut down a key export terminal and an offshore field accounting for 455,000 barrels per day because of the unrest, but is still pumping in other areas.
A security official said that Chevron had pulled out non-essential staff from areas affected by violence.
However, hundreds of expatriate workers remain in its Escravos export terminal, even though two oil pipelines leading from there were blown up at several points by militants over the weekend.
The latest round of attacks was triggered by army air raids on ethnic Ijaw villages last week, in which militants claim that more than 20 people were killed.

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