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International Herald Tribune: Nigeria troops storm and burn slums

Reuters
Published: August 25, 2006
 
PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria Nigerian soldiers burned hundreds of slum houses located close to the compound of an Italian oil company where two foreign oil workers were kidnapped and their bodyguard killed overnight.

 
Residents said the soldiers stormed the waterside settlement around the compound of Saipem, a unit of the Italian oil company ENI, poured gasoline over the houses and set fire to them.
 
“I am surprised our own soldiers could do this to us,” said one resident, who gave his name only as James.
 
“They came here, poured petrol and set fire to our property and houses to kill us. What offense have we committed?”
 
At least two foreign oil workers, including one Italian, were kidnapped from a bar in the slum area on Thursday night, residents said.
 
The gunmen who took them also shot and killed an army sergeant who was guarding them and injured another soldier.
 
“The soldiers are asking why we let the militants in to kill their soldier,” said another resident, who declined to be named.
 
Families returned to the area around the Saipem compound on Friday morning, picking over the charred remains of their houses to recover personal items, but were chased away by soldiers brandishing bottles and throwing stones.
 
A helicopter gunship hovered overhead while naval men moved around in pickups.
 
The reprisal came after President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the security services to use “force for force” against militants who have staged eight separate abductions of oil workers this month alone.
 
In total at least 19 people have been kidnapped, but only three are still in captivity.
 
Government sources say Rivers State government paid 20 million naira, or $156,000, for the release of six foreign oil workers earlier this week.
 
“The Rivers State government has been encouraging this by promptly paying large sums for their release,” said the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, which has taken hostages but says it is opposed to kidnapping for ransom.
 
“Politicians are also using this as a platform to showcase their leverage amongst ‘militia groups’ in the delta. It’s now a booming trade.”
 
The string of kidnappings followed a series of crippling attacks on the oil industry in the world’s eighth largest exporter earlier this year by Mend, which is fighting for greater regional control over the region’s oil wealth.
 
Those attacks forced Royal Dutch Shell to evacuate hundreds of oil workers from oil fields in the western delta in February, reducing output by 500,000 barrels a day or one sixth of the nation’s capacity.
 
One attempted hostage release went wrong on Sunday, when militants bringing a Nigerian Shell worker out of captivity ran into a military convoy, and a gunfight broke out.
 
At least 10 militants were killed and Mend said on Thursday it would avenge their deaths.
 
 

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