Nigerian militants clash with soldiers

Lagos- Nigeria (PANA) -- Nigerian soldiers deployed to protect oil facilities in the Niger Delta region clashed with militants in the region in a firefight that lasted 45 minutes Wednesday, both sides confirmed Thursday.
Militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) reported the clash in an e-mail to PANA, claiming they killed 13 soldiers and lost none of their fighters.
"Our intelligence reports indicate a large number of wounded, many of whom have been lifted to hospitals in Warri (Delta state) by Shell," said the militants, whose attacks on oil platforms in the region have cut Nigeria's daily production of 2.
5 million barrels by 20 per cent.
A Nigerian Army source confirmed the clash, saying it involved soldiers escorting a tanker along the Escravos River and militants who attacked the tanker, perhaps in search of fuel.
The source did not comment on the casualty from the clash.
PANA has learnt that top security officials met with President Olusegun Obasanjo at the State House in Abuja Thursday morning over the issue.
No communiqué was issued after the meeting.
MEND, which is fighting for greater control of the Niger Delta oil resources, is also holding three of the nine hostages it kidnapped last month, having set six others free earlier.
The group, which has killed at least 15 soldiers since its campaign started late last year, said in view of the clash, "we are considering what further actions to take against the military and Shell installations in Forcados and Odidi.
" Explaining how the fight started, MEND said its men were on patrol along the Escravos River Wednesday evening when soldiers in four patrol boats attacked them.
"These boats took off from the Shell terminal in Forcados and had on board a total of approximately 32 soldiers.
"There was a firefight which lasted about 45 minutes during which a reinforcement of 3 Nigerian Army patrol boats from Warri containing 24 soldiers joined up with the 4 boats which had earlier initiated the fight," MEND said.
The firefight came a day after the federal government removed the top military commander in the region, Brigadier General Elias Zamani.
It also came shortly after the militants announced the appointment of a negotiator, former Bayelsa state government spokesman Oronto Douglas, to discuss the Niger Delta crisis with the government.
Analysts said the clash might delay ongoing efforts to secure the release of the remaining three hostages from the US and Britain.

09 march 2006 14:49:00

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