Nigerian Military Moves into Niger Delta

LAGOS, Jan 26, 2006 (Dow Jones Commodities News via Comtex)

Nigerian military authorities have started to mobilize troops to secure oil facilities located in troubled spots in the oil-rich Niger Delta, a resident of Warri told Dow Jones Newswires Thursday.

The source said troops are being moved out of the city of Warri, which serves as a military unit created to fight militancy among groups in the region.

"There is a lot of troop movement, but there is no sense of panic among the residents," the source said.

However, Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, has warned that the current crisis could lead to a civil war in Nigeria.

Besides the fortification of oil installations, the source said troops are also being sent to Bayelsa state, the hotbed of the current campaign by militant groups pressing for greater control of oil and gas resources located in the region.

Joseph Evah, National Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group, however, also said Thursday that militants were located "all over the Niger Delta." The Ijaw ethnic group, which is in the vanguard of the current campaign, is located in several Nigerian states along the coastal region.

Attacks by militants over the past month on platforms and pipelines have killed dozens of soldiers and civilians and cut 10% of daily oil output in the world's eight-largest oil exporter.

Nigerian authorities are also faced with the task of how to secure the release of four foreign expatriate oil workers held hostage by the most visible of the groups - Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND.

The militant group has threatened to kill the hostages should the government resort to the use of force to secure their release.

The Nigerian government has been accused of neglecting the region that produces the country's wealth - oil and gas - while developing other parts of the country. That includes Abuja, the Nigerian inland capital, which the Niger Delta indigenous say was built with oil money.

MEND, is calling for the government to release Mujaheedeed Asari-Dokubo, leader of the Niger Delta Volunteers Force, an ethnic militant campaigning for regional control of resources.

Asari-Dokubo is on trial in Abuja, accused by the government of treason.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said he would restore stability in the Niger Delta, in an interview Thursday.

His comments follow an attack Tuesday at the offices of Italian energy firm Agip SpA (AGP.YY), that left nine people dead before the assailants fled by speedboat.

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