NIGERIA: Oil majors undeterred as rebels threaten to attack facilities in Niger Delta

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LAGOS : An armed group in Nigeria accused of trafficking in illegally extracted crude has threatened to attack international oil facilities and personnel in the Niger Delta, a regional government spokesman said.

The Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, led by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, said in a statement late Monday it would launch an "all-time war against Nigeria" from October 1, Rivers State spokesman Emmanuel Okah told AFP.

The group claims to be fighting for the interests of ethnic Ijaw people of the oil-rich but troubled Niger delta region, which it says has suffered neglect and deprivation despite being the source of Nigeria's oil wealth.In its statement, the group advised oil majors to leave the delta region, which pumps all of Nigeria's 2.3 million barrels per day production.

The statement also accused Royal Dutch Shell, Nigeria's largest oil producer, and Italy's Agip of "collaboration with the Nigerian state in acts of genocide" against the Ijaw.Dokubo-Asari warned that his group would not take responsibility for any harm that may come to foreign nationals and advised the government and embassies to withdraw their citizens, Okah told AFP by telephone.He was speaking from Port Harcourt, Nigeria's oil hub and the base of international oil giants and service companies in the west African country, Africa's largest oil producer and the fifth biggest in the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Unrest in the delta region has helped push world oil prices to new summits, with the price per barrel bursting through the 50 dollar mark Tuesday, as traders took fright at a multitude of supply threats, including violence in Nigeria.

An Ijaw leader and member of the Ijaw Youth Council, Patterson Ogun, distanced his ethnic community from Dokubo-Asari. "It is true that he used to be our national president, but we have since held elections and appointed new officers. The Ijaws don't believe in his approach of violence because it will heighten tensions," he said.

"It is only Asari who can explain why he is doing what he is doing. We are not part of it," he added.

Shell and Agip dismissed the militant group's threat, insisting it would not affect production. "We are not in any way moved by the threat. We believe the Nigerian security forces are equal to the task of safeguarding oil installations and protecting workers," said Don Boham, a Shell spokesman.

A spokesman for Agip said the company would continue with business as usual.

"We will not halt production because of the threat. We are still up and running," the spokesman, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

"We know the Nigerian government will not close its eyes and allow disgruntled elements to disrupt its main source of livelihood," he said.

Nigeria derives more than 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from oil.

A spokesman for French oil group Total said in Paris that the threat would have no impact on Total's production in Nigeria, but added: "We are closely watching to see how the situation develops."

Rivers State spokesman Okah said Dokubo-Asari's group did not pose a threat to Nigerian oil production."Dokubo-Asari is a joker. He does not have the capacity to destroy oil installations. The government will not allow it. The security forces are fully mobilised and combat-ready to dislodge this criminal group," he said."We are using this opportunity to appeal to the oil companies to be calm and continue with their operations without fear," he added.

Okah said Dokubo-Asari and his group were unhappy that the government has stopped their illegal "bunkering" business -- the illegal sale of stolen crude oil.

The Nigerian government deployed troops to the Niger Delta, particularly in Port Harcourt and surrounding areas, two weeks ago following fighting between two armed gangs for control of the area's illegal crude oil extraction and trafficking operations.

Defence spokesman Colonel Ganiyu Adewale also dismissed the threat.

"It is an empty threat that should be ignored. The military are in control of all oil facilities in Nigeria. The Nigerian military will never allow any armed gang or a group of bandits to toy with the nation's destiny," he said.

Gang warfare in Port Harcourt and several villages in the surrounding Niger Delta swamps has claimed up to 500 lives, according to Amnesty International. But the Nigerian police have disputed the figure, saying only 13 people have died.


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