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NIGERIA: Uneasy calm restored in Port Harcourt

DAKAR, 17 August 2007 (IRIN) - The army appeared to be in charge again in Nigeria’s southern city of Port Harcourt a day after gun fights had erupted across the city causing many residents to flee their homes.

“The soldiers are everywhere in the city and they are very serious,” said a local driver George Aneh in Port Harcourt who IRIN reached by telephone on 17 August.

“On every corner you see civilians getting out of the cars with their hands up as soldiers check for weapons,” he said.

“The soldiers don’t look at you in the face or even have an interest in taking bribes.”

Traffic was lighter than normal in Port Harcourt, he said, but banks and shops were all open again for business. Despite the heavy military presence, the government has reportedly said the city was not under a state of emergency.

According to various press reports the government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on 17 August and Aneh said in the evening the city had grown eerily quiet.

Fighting broke out in the early hours of 16 August after the military launched an attack in the Makoba district of the city on what was believed to have been a hideout of militia leader Soboma George.

At least 32 people died in the fighting, most of them militia fighters, including George, according to various reports attributed to the government.

In the evening on 16 August the governor of the Rivers State Celestine Omehia went on local radio to say that normalcy had returned to Port Harcourt although he ruled out an immediate withdrawal of the security forces “as the miscreants may stage a come back”.

Nearly two decades of unrest in the oil-rich Niger Delta region have in recent years evolved into an armed insurgency for local control of the region’s oil wealth. Criminal gangs have also grown increasingly powerful, thriving on rackets involving tapping of oil from the region's network of pipelines.

Dozens of people have been reportedly killed in the city in the past two weeks with reports of at least 72 of people wounded by gunshot.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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