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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Nigerian Militants Attack Fuel Tanker: Military

By REUTERS
LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian militants engaged soldiers in a fierce gun battle in the southern delta in an unsuccessful attempt to capture a fuel tanker, military officials said on Thursday.
The militants, who are holding three foreign hostages, said they killed at least seven soldiers, but the military said two of their men were injured and two or three militants died in the 45-minute firefight on Wednesday evening.
“They wanted to seize a fuel tanker, but they were repelled,'' an army spokesman said.
The militants, who are fighting for more local control over the delta's oil resources, had earlier described the firefight as an attack by the army on their patrol boats in the Escravos River area on the western side of the vast wetlands region.
It was the latest in a series of confrontations between troops and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, whose attacks on the oil industry have cut oil exports from the leading OPEC nation by a fifth.
The army spokesman said the tanker was carrying fuel and was due to berth at Warri where the state oil company has a refinery.
Having released six hostages last week, the militants are still holding three foreign oil workers — two Americans and one Briton — since a series of raids on Feb 18. which forced Royal Dutch Shell to cut 455,000 barrels a day output, or one fifth of Nigerian output.
On Wednesday, the militants named an ethnic Ijaw activist as mediator for talks with the government, raising hopes of a speedy resolution to the three-month-old crisis.
It followed the removal of the head of the military in the Niger Delta on suspicion of involvement in the theft of crude oil, government sources said.
The army said his removal was a routine redeployment.
Both sides have accused each other of being involved in the illicit trade, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and diplomats say it is at the root of much of the insecurity in the region.
The militants said they had received reports of army patrols firing indiscriminately into Ijaw communities near the village of Odidi.
“In the light of this, we are considering what further actions to take against the military and Shell installations in Forcados and Odidi,'' the militants said.
Shell has already evacuated all its staff from the Forcados region, and shut all its production from the western side of the delta. Company officials were not available to comment.

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