UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
NIGERIA: Troops hunting oil workers' killers meet militia resistance
WARRI, 29 Apr 2004 (IRIN) - Nigerian troops hunting the killers responsible for the deaths of four oil workers and their three military guards in the troubled Niger Delta oil region last week say they have come under gunfire attack from armed ethnic militants in the region.
Major Said Ahmed, spokesman for the joint military task force deployed in the region, said on Thursday that soldiers deployed along the Benin River came under fire from armed militants aboard three speedboats on Wednesday.
He said the troops returned fire and hit some of the militants. Ahmed had no information on deaths or injuries amongst the militants, but confirmed there were no casualties on the government side.
"The gunfire lasted for about thirty minutes before the youths
retreated into the creeks," said Ahmed.
The clashes took place at Ogheye, some 60 kilometres north of the oil town of Warri.
This attack follows a previous incident last Friday in which a boatload of Nigerian and US oil workers engaged by the ChevronTexaco company and their navy guards were killed in a similar ambush by gunmen.
President Olusegun Obasanjo has ordered security forces to
apprehend the gunmen responsible for the original attack.
However, the ambush at Ogheye highlighted the difficulties troops face in tracking down the heavily armed militants who are adept at deploying hit-and-run guerrilla tactics in a maze of swampy creeks and rivers that they know very well.
Chevron-Texaco had been looking to revive oil facilities in the Delta that were shut down amid fighting by ethnic Ijaw and Itsekiri militias in March 2003.
Two US citizens working for Texas-based International Building
Systems, two Nigerian oil workers (one employed by ChevronTexaco and another by oil service firm, Wilbros) and three naval guards were killed in the attack.
ChevronTexaco subsequently suspended plans to reopen the closed facilities at a loss of 140,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Meanwhile, rival ethnic Ijaw and Itsekiri militias, who have battled each other over claims to oil-rich areas and the benefits believed due from them - including jobs, amenities and even cash pay offs - have continued to accuse each other of the killing of the oil workers.
Several hundred people have died in fighting, which first broke out in 1997 around the town of Warri, among the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhobo neighbours as their impoverished communities jostled for political influence and competed for the trickle-down benefits of oil operations.
Despite providing nearly all of Nigeria's two million barrels per day oil exports, the Niger Delta remains one of the country's poorest regions and has in the past decade been racked by instability and violence.
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