A Nigerian militant group tangling with government forces in the country’s southern oil-producing region on Friday declared "an all-out war" after what it said was a deadly bombing raid on civilians.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, in e-mail messages to reporters, said it sank six army gunboats, destroyed three others, and captured three in the restive Niger Delta region. “Many soldiers have been killed and the military has made a hasty retreat,” said the group — which is calling on “men of fighting age to enlist” in its fight against government forces. It said Nigerian troops fired stray bullets that killed a “hostage” in Delta State. Also, the group said, it had captured personnel from a Nigerian warship deployed from Liberia to help the military and was “in the process” of torching the vessel. Col. Rabe Abubakar, spokesman for the Nigerian military’s joint task force, said Friday that troops were planning cordon-and-search operations designed to nab militants in their suspected hideouts along the southern region’s creeks. And that push, he said, could lead to a “serious gun battle which may cause the militants to flee to their main camps and this may lead to our torching such camps.” These are the latest developments in the escalating hostilities between the government and militants, who demand that more of the country’s oil wealth be reinvested in the region instead of enriching foreign investors. The violence — which includes attacks on pipelines and hostage-taking — has limited shipment of crude oil supplies out of Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer.
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The militant group said Friday the country’s armed forces conducted “indiscriminate aerial bombardment on the defenseless civilians in the Gbaramatu area of Delta state.” It said the strikes were punishment “for the humiliating defeat” of the army in raids on two militant camps Wednesday. “Casualties are mostly women, children and the elderly who could not get away quickly into the bush or high sea,” the militant group said. It also repeated its “directive” for oil companies in the region to “evacuate by the deadline of midnight today and cease oil production until further notice.” The military made reference to the directive, saying it was responding to attacks on troops, hijacks of vessels, and threats to innocents, such as the “expatriates who were given ultimatum to leave the region by the militants.” “We are not at war with any individuals or groups in the region,” Abubakar said. “Ours is to protect lives and property and also to rid the region of criminals who hide under the guise of struggle agenda to perpetrate crime.”