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News24.com: 12 chiefs dead Nigeria clashes

16/01/2007 22:23  – (SA)    

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

Bisi Ojediran, a spokesperson 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 all of the crude in Africa’s largest producer was pumped.

Production had not been affected by the fighting, which Ojerdiran characterised as a community fight. He said: “This seems to be an inter-community problem and not a direct attack on the oil company by militants.”

He gave no details of how many staff was evacuated.

Irejua Barasua, a spokesperson for police in Rivers State, where the attack took place, said that 12 chiefs had been killed overnight on Sunday when unknown assailants attacked their boat.

Breakdown of law, order

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

Brigadier general Samuel Salihu said: “There’s a total breakdown of law and order … and we had we had to act fast.” He refused to say how many supplemental troops were sent to the area.

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

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

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

Stepped up attacks by militants demanding a greater share of oil revenues had cut nearly one quarter of Nigeria’s usual 2.5 million barrel daily crude output 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 had left most Nigerians mired in poverty. Many people saw political appointments or traditional offices as one of the few ways to enrichment.

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