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Reuters: Troops patrol Nigerian oil city after gang clashes

Thu 9 Aug 2007, 12:46 GMT
By Austin Ekeinde

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigeria deployed troops to restore order in its oil capital Port Harcourt on Thursday after a bloody four-day turf war between rival gangs.

Security sources say about 15 people have been killed in gunfights in the city since Sunday. Police declined to give an official death toll.

“Our men are in the waterfront and other vulnerable areas which are prone to crisis in respect to the recent spate of violence,” said military spokesman Sagir Musa.

Port Harcourt is the largest city in the Niger Delta, a wetlands region in southern Nigeria which is home to Africa’s largest oil industry.

Extra troops were deployed to the state government headquarters and to the offices of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell after a group of armed youths drove past shooting sporadically in the air on Thursday, a company source said.

Residents reported hearing gunfire in some parts of the city on Wednesday night, and police engaged gunmen at a waterfront location on Thursday. Troops and police patrolled the city in pick-ups and set up roadblocks.

Armed groups demanding control over the region’s oil wealth stepped up targeted attacks and kidnapping of foreign workers in February 2006, cutting output from the world’s eighth biggest oil exporter by at least a fifth.

The politically motivated attacks have subsided since a new government took over on May 29 with a pledge to raise living conditions in the impoverished region.

But the unrest has spiralled into an uncontrollable wave of abductions for ransom, armed robberies and gang wars, blurring the line between militancy and crime.

Decades of neglect and corruption in government feed the insecurity in the delta, where poor fishing communities host a multi-billion dollar Western-operated oil industry.

Gangs are closely linked to politicians and often clash over control of a lucrative trade in crude oil stolen from pipelines and wellheads across the region.

Thousands of foreign workers and their families have fled the delta since the start of 2006, and investment has slowed drastically.

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