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Nigeria aims blow at delta militants

Financial Times

By Matthew Green in Lagos

Published: May 22 2009 03:00 | Last updated: May 22 2009 03:00

Nigeria’s military has laun-ched its biggest offensive in the Niger Delta in years, hoping to deal a decisive blow against armed groups that have crippled parts of Africa’s biggest oil industry.

Hundreds of troops backed by gunboats, helicopter gunships and other aircraft have mounted operations in the past week to chase militants from bases in the western delta and into villages.

Security experts say a task force of army, navy and air force units operating in the delta has been preparing for a combined assault on the militants for more than a year. The force attacked an important position known as Camp 5 last Friday before searching for militants scattered through the creeks.

Umaru Yar’Adua, the Nigerian president, has signalled his intention to pursue a broad-based development strategy for the delta and offer amnesty to fighters willing to lay down their arms. But communities in the delta are now waiting to see whether the latest assault will provoke reprisals or put factions under the kind of pressure that might lead to negotiations.

The fighting has been a factor in pushing oil prices above $62 a barrel this week but the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the state oil company, says there has been no significant impact on production.

Companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and Total that have operations in Nigeria will be watching to see whether the offensive outside the city of Warri puts the militants on the defensive or provokes strikes against vulnerable pipelines that snake through the region’s vast wetlands.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, an umbrella group that works with various armed factions, has pledged “all-out war” in one of many statements since the military attacked an important militant camp a week ago.

The group has, however, yet to demonstrate it still has the ability to mount the kind of spectacular attacks seen in early 2006, when it shut about a fifth of Nigeria’s production, much of it operated by Shell.

The offensive has provoked an outcry among groups representing the Ijaw community. Amnesty International said it had reports that hundreds of people had been killed, butverifying casualty claims was not immediately possible.

Odein Ajumogobia, the min-ister for petroleum, said Nigeria was pumping about half of an installed capacity that he estimates at 3.2m barrels a day of oil. and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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