/ 10 June 2009

Nigerian militants claim sabotage of oil facility

Nigerian militants said on Wednesday they had sabotaged an oil-pumping station in the restive southern Niger Delta region.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or Mend, said in an email message that its overnight strike on an installation run by Chevron’s local subsidiary had left the facility in flames. The company confirmed a fire at one of its flow stations.

Violence is rising in the chaotic and lawless southern oil region as the military intensifies operations to oust militant fighters battling for a larger share of government-controlled oil-industry revenues.

The military has so far concentrated its firepower on militant fighters in western Delta State, where the targeted Chevron facility is located, but fighters across the region are mobilising for a fight.

The military seized one militant camp, sending in attack helicopters and bomber jets in an attack that human rights groups say may have killed hundreds of people including civilians, but many other militant strongholds exist.

Mend has issued repeated warnings recently to oil companies to pull all staff from the region, reiterating a message it has issued since the group emerged in 2006 and sent Niger Delta violence to new heights.

The group also says it intends to soon release a British hostage held for more than six months. But an earlier pledge by the group to set free Matthew Maguire was never carried through.

Militant attacks on oil infrastructure have trimmed output in Africa’s biggest oil producer by about 25%. The militants are fighting to force the federal government to send a larger proportion of the oil funds it controls to the impoverished Niger Delta states, where the crude is pumped. But militants fund their activities in large part with the proceeds of oil stolen from pipelines and sold illegally in overseas markets, so a wholesale destruction of Nigeria’s oil infrastructure is unlikely. — Sapa-AP