UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
NIGERIA: At least five killed in fresh Itsekiri, Ijaw clashes
WARRI, 26 Jan 2004 (IRIN) - At least five people were killed at the weekend in a fresh outbreak of fighting between rival ethnic militias near the oil town of Warri in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, residents and militants said on Monday.
Fighting broke out before dawn on Sunday near the Itsekiri stronghold of Ode Itsekiri five km south of Warri, and petered out at day break.
This clash was followed by another round of fighting on Sunday afternoon near Ogbe Ijoh market on the opposite bank of the Warri River, residents said.
Bello Oboko, leader of the militant Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities, said three boats carrying Ijaw traders were attacked by Itsekiri militants as they passed Ode Itsekiri, leaving one Ijaw dead.
"The ambush was resisted by our boys and there was a shootout," he said.
Oboko said that later on Sunday Itsekiri militiamen attacked several Ijaw villages in speed boats, shooting indiscriminately into them. The casualties from this second attack were still being counted, he said.
However, Daniel Iremiju, who leads the equally militant Itsekiri National Youth Council, accused Ijaw fighters of launching an unprovoked attack on Ode Itsekiri, killing four people.
He said Itsekiri fighers attacked Ijaw villages in retaliation a few hours later.
"If we are attacked we're not going to fold our hands, we will retaliate," he said. "And we went into the river and retaliated."
The delta region around Warri has been a scene of repeated ethnic clashes over the past seven years, during which several hundred people have died. At least 200 people were killed in fighting between the rival ethnic groups last year, including some of the soldiers deployed to quell the violence.
Much of the fighting has been over claims to the ownership of land on which oil companies operate. The community which owns such land stands to benefit from jobs and various local ammenities provided by the oil companies.
In October, Delta State governor James Ibori secured a truce between the warring factions and began negotiations to bring permanent peace to the delta.
But given a series of recent incidents of tit-for-tat violence between Ijaws and Itsekiris, Warri has become increasingly tense and many residents of the oil city fear a return to heavy fighting.
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