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NIGERIA: Militants warn oil firms

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 14, 2009

PORT HARCOURT | Nigeria’s main militant group warned oil companies in the Niger Delta to evacuate their staff within 24 hours following heavy clashes with security forces in the southern Delta state Wednesday.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said two of its camps had come under “unprovoked attack” and that it had sunk two gunboats in retaliation and inflicted several casualties on the military side.

MEND has issued such threats several times in the past, most recently in late January when it warned of a “sweeping assault” on the oil and gas industry, which never materialized. However, the clashes could trigger the first major escalation in violence in the Niger Delta since a six-day “oil war” last September, in which the militants attacked oil sites and forced Royal Dutch Shell to warn on its export obligations.

Attacks by MEND have cut Nigeria’s oil output by about a fifth since early 2006, forced foreign oil giants to remove all but essential staff and eaten into the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries member’s foreign earnings, exacerbating the impact of the global downturn.

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