LAGOS (Dow Jones Newswires), May 13, 2009
Nigeria's main armed group gave oil firms operating in the southern Niger Delta 24 hours to evacuate their staff or face being attacked, in a statement released Wednesday.
"Oil companies operating in the region are advised to evacuate their staff within the next 24 hours to avoid them being part of the statistics of an emerging civil war," the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, said.
"All freedom fighters in the Niger Delta have been placed on alert to defend their positions and unleash a horrible toll on the oil industry and the Nigerian economy," the militants' statement said.
MEND said the Nigerian military Wednesday morning launched attacks on two of its camps in Delta State. In the ensuing battle, two army gunboats were sunk "with several casualties on the side of the army," the MEND statement said.
A spokesman for the special military body in the volatile region, the Joint Task Force, confirmed the face-off Wednesday between the militants and the troops but denied the army lost any men.
"We are aware there was an encounter this morning. They (militants) ambushed our people. We had to defend ourselves. Only two of our soldiers were wounded in the attack. We did not record any casualty at all," Colonel Rabe Abubakar told AFP. "It is sheer propaganda on their part."
On Jan. 30, MEND said it was ending a unilateral ceasefire and threatened to unleash a new wave of violence, but failed to make good on its threat at the time.
The militant group has been behind a wave of attacks on oil installations and kidnappings of foreign oil workers which has reduced the country's oil output by 25%.
Copyright (c) 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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