Friday, April 25, 2008

Nigerian militants report another oil pipeline bombing

LAGOS, Nigeria — The militant group behind a string of recent attacks in Nigeria's southern oil region said Friday it had sabotaged another pipeline.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, said its fighters hit a pipeline late Thursday in the southern Rivers State _ bringing to four the number of pipelines the group has reportedly blown up in the past week.

The group said in a statement that the pipeline belongs to a Royal Dutch Shell PLC joint venture. A Shell spokesman had no immediate comment.

The group says it is fighting to force the federal government to direct more oil industry revenues to the region, which remains deeply poor despite four decades of oil production in the area.

Shell confirmed three attacks over the past week, and announced it may not be able to meet its obligations to ship some 169,000 barrels per day from Nigeria over the next few weeks. The company, one of the main operators in the country, has yet to report any production outages from the other attacks.

Those attacks have helped send crude prices to historic highs on international markets.

The militants have stepped up activities as one of the group's reputed leaders, Henry Okah, faces trial on terrorism and treason charges. The group emerged two years ago and quickly established itself as the region's most effective militant organization.

But crime and militancy are intermingled in the region, with gunmen stealing crude oil for resale or robbing banks one day and battling security forces or blowing up oil infrastructure the next.

The southern Niger Delta, where the crude is pumped in Africa's biggest oil industry, is traversed with pipes that carry oil from well heads via transfer stations and on to export terminals. The infrastructure in the vast region of creeks and swamps is virtually unguarded.

Since Okah's arrest, the group has not launched any of the coordinated, military-style armed raids on staffed facilities that originally made it notable.

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