March 9, 2006

Nigerian militants attack fuel tanker, kill 5

By Tom Ashby

LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerian militants killed four soldiers
and one policeman in an unsuccessful attempt to capture a fuel
tanker in the southern delta, military officials said on

The militants, who are holding three foreign hostages, said
they killed seven soldiers in a 45-minute firefight with troops
on Wednesday evening, but a Navy spokesman said only four
soldiers and one policeman died.

"There was an attempt by militants to seize the tanker and
there was an exchange of fire. They are probably running out of
fuel in their camps," the spokesman said.

The militants, who say they are fighting for more local
control over the delta's oil resources, had earlier described
the firefight as an attack by the army on their patrol boats in
the Escravos River area of the vast wetlands region.

It was the latest in a series of confrontations between
troops and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger
Delta, whose attacks on the oil industry have cut oil exports
from the leading OPEC nation by a fifth.

An army spokesman said the tanker was carrying refined fuel
and was due to berth at Warri in the southern Delta state,
where the state oil company has a refinery.

The militants released six hostages last week, but are
still holding two Americans and one Briton taken during a
series of attacks on Feb 18. which forced Royal Dutch Shell to
shut 455,000 barrels a day, or one fifth of Nigerian output.

On Wednesday, the militants named an ethnic Ijaw activist
as mediator for talks with the government, raising hopes of a
speedy resolution to the three-month-old crisis.

It followed the removal of the head of the military in the
Niger Delta on suspicion of involvement in the theft of crude
oil, government sources said.

The army said his removal was a routine redeployment.

Both sides have accused each other of being involved in the
illicit trade, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of
dollars every year, and diplomats say it is at the root of much
of the insecurity in the region.

The militants said they had received reports of army
patrols firing indiscriminately into Ijaw communities near the
village of Odidi.

"In the light of this, we are considering what further
actions to take against the military and Shell installations in
Forcados and Odidi," the militants said.

Shell has already evacuated all its staff from the Forcados
region, and shut all its production from the western side of
the delta. Company officials were not available to comment.