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Canadian Press: Clashes in southern Nigeria leave a dozen dead; Shell evacuates oil staff

Dan Udoh
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (AP) – Royal Dutch Shell evacuated staff from two oil installations in southern Nigeria and the military boosted troop levels in the volatile area Tuesday after community clashes left a dozen community chiefs dead, officials said.

Bisi Ojediran, a spokesman for Shell PLC, said only a skeleton crew remained at the two evacuated pipeline hubs in the Niger Delta region, a vast area of mangrove swamps where Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer, pumps all its crude oil.

Production had not been affected by the fighting, which Ojediran characterized as a community fight. He gave no details of how many staff were evacuated.

“This seems to be an inter-community problem and not a direct attack on the oil company by militants,” he said.

Irejua Barasua, a spokeswoman for police in Rivers state where the attack took place, said that 12 chiefs were killed overnight Sunday when unknown assailants attacked their boat.

A leader of Nigeria’s military force in the region said troops were being deployed to the area.

“There’s a total breakdown of law and order … and we had to act fast,” Brig.-Gen. Samuel Salihu told The Associated Press. He refused to say how many supplemental troops were sent to the area.

Power struggles over local chieftaincies and associated payments from oil companies are common in Nigeria’s oil-rich but impoverished Delta region.

The location of the clashes is strategically important, lying on the main riverine route for oil workers and supplies between oil centres in Rivers and Bayelsa states.

Violence is increasing ahead of April’s elections, when the majority of the current government will have to step down due to term limits.

Stepped up attacks by local groups demanding a greater share of oil revenues have reduced Nigeria’s usual crude oil output of 2.5 million barrels a day by almost 25 per cent in the last year.

Despite being Africa’s largest oil exporter and the fifth-largest supplier of crude to the United States, corruption and mismanagement has left most Nigerians mired in poverty. Many people see political appointments or traditional offices as one of the few ways to enrichment.

© The Canadian Press 2007

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