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AP Worldstream: Nigeria militants report firefight with army troops

Mar 09, 2006
A Nigerian militant group holding three foreign oil workers hostage said its fighters clashed with army troops in this West African nation's oil-rich delta region.
The militants said in an e-mailed statement that one of their vessels was attacked Wednesday on the Escravos River by four Nigerian navy patrol boats, sparking a 45-minute gunbattle they claimed left seven government soldiers dead.
The reported skirmish could not be independently confirmed and military officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
“The Nigerian government and military should note that we have sufficient firepower in that vicinity to repel any attack,” the militants said.
The militants took nine foreign oil workers hostage Feb. 18 from a barge owned by the Houston-based oil services company Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline in the delta for Royal Dutch Shell. They released six of them last week after 12 days in captivity. The remaining three include two Americans and a Briton.
The militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claims to be fighting to win a greater share of oil wealth on behalf of the Niger Delta's impoverished inhabitants, who have remained poor despite the fact that most of Nigeria's oil is being pumped from the swampy region. The government characterizes the militants as criminals and oil thieves.
The militants accused the military of launching Wednesday's attack from a Shell terminal in Forcados with nearly three dozen soldiers. They said the military brought in reinforcements from the oil city of Warri.
A wave of militant attacks over the last two months has forced Nigeria to cut daily exports by 20 percent. Nigeria normally produces about 2.5 million barrels per day.
Militants have warned more violence was likely to strike Africa's biggest crude producer. Besides the kidnappings, militias have blown up oil pipelines and attacked two of Shell's oil platforms in recent months.
Earlier Wednesday, the military said it had replaced a general who was heading a special task force battling the militants in the delta. Brig Gen. Elias Zamani was transferred to army headquarters and replaced by Brig Gen. Albert Ilogho, who was heading the National War College in the capital, Abuja, military spokesman Col. Mohammed Yusuf said. He described the move as “a routine change” unrelated to recent unrest.

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