Nigeria: Mend issues threat
Lagos - The main militant group in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta said on Friday it will launch new attacks, despite a recent military crackdown.
The warning by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) came as Royal Dutch Shell PLC's Nigerian subsidiary announced Friday one of its major pipelines in the region suffered enough damage to affect crude oil shipments.
Men sent an email to journalists claiming the group ambushed 14 army gunboats that were heading toward one of their camps on Thursday.
Mend said they had killed 10 soldiers and injured 17 others in the fight, but a military spokesperson denied their claims.
"They have lost the struggle and they are using collaborators in the media to regain their initiatives," Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Antigha said of Mend.
However, an official at a hospital in Delta state told The Associated Press that doctors had treated at least nine soldiers wounded in an attack by militants in the delta.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with journalists.
On Wednesday night, a military operation freed 19 hostages in the oil region held by Mend - including seven expatriate workers.
Mend promised to launch new assaults despite losing the hostages.
"We will soon commence with an all-out attack on oil installations across the Niger Delta," Mend's email read on Friday.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who comes from the Niger Delta, praised the soldiers on Friday for the rescue on his official profile on the social networking website Facebook.
"For the Niger Delta, I believe the worst is over," Jonathan said.
Jonathan's hopeful message came as Shell declared "force majeure"on Friday on its Bonny Light crude oil shipments.
The term is used when it is impossible for an oil company to cover the promised supply from the field.
Shell said the damage occurred on Shell's Trans Niger pipeline, a major conduit for Shell through the Niger Delta, an oil-rich region of swamps, mangroves and creeks.
The company said it had no information about what caused the damage, but said an investigation was ongoing.
Pipelines and rigs operated by Shell, the first oil company to come to the Niger Delta more than 50 years ago, remain lucrative targets for militants and criminals wanting to steal crude in the region.
Most pipelines run through communities long suspicious of foreign oil firms, as they say exploration only brought endemic poverty and years of pollution to the region.
Nigeria is one of the top crude oil suppliers to the US.
Militants in the delta want more oil money to come to an area still gripped by abject poverty and pollution after more than 50 years of oil production.
However, nebulous ties exist between militants, criminal gangs operating in the area and wealthy politicians who benefit from oil revenue in the region.
Nigeria, an Opec-member nation, has seen its oil production rise to 2.2 million barrels a day since a government-sponsored amnesty program last year offered cash pay outs and the promise of job training to former fighters and commanders.
Despite the amnesty, a contingent of Mend fighters continues a campaign against the government.