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« Oil workers targeted as Nigeria violence grows | Main | Oil nears $60 as cold weather grips U.S. »

February 05, 2007

Nigeria militants claim to free leader

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria - The main militant group in Nigeria's restive, oil-rich south said dozens of its heavily armed forces raided a prison Sunday and freed one of their leaders.

By DAN UDOH, Associated Press Writer
Sun Jan 28, 6:10 PM ET

Officials in the oil-industry center of Port Harcourt confirmed there was a prison break, but did not say who escaped. Officials said one passer-by died when the militants exploded dynamite to break through the prison walls.

Several other civilians were injured, but no security forces were hurt, said Felix Ugbaudu, police commissioner of Rivers state where the attack occurred.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said about 50 of its fighters freed the group leader and spirited him back into the vast region of swamps and creeks where most of the crude in Africa's biggest oil producer is pumped. The military sent armored personnel carriers and gunships against the militants, the movement said.

The group said in a statement that its fighters carried machine guns, grenades and assault rifles during the hour-long gunbattle, but that none of the militants were hurt.

Criminals and militants seeking greater control of oil funds for their impoverished region have stepped up their attacks on Nigeria's oil industry in recent months, blowing up pipelines and kidnapping workers.

Attacks in the past year have cut nearly one quarter of Nigeria's daily 2.5 million barrel per day crude output, helping raise oil prices in international markets.

Separately, a Belgian man was reported killed in another city in the region and his driver and a female acquaintance were in custody, police said Sunday.

The man was killed in a fish market Saturday near the city of Warri in southern Nigeria, Delta state police Commissioner Udom Ekpoudom said.

Ekpoudom said police were investigating, but that the motive for the killing didn't appear to be related to a surge of violence targeting foreign oil workers in the region. He had no further details.

More than 80 workers were kidnapped last year and dozens more have been seized this month, with more than three dozen foreign workers currently in captivity. Hostages are rarely harmed by their captors, but there have been casualties in gunfights when Nigerian security forces confront the kidnappers.

Despite the region's great oil stores, most of the region's people are mired in deep poverty that they blame on corrupt government officials and unfair contracts with the international oil companies that pump most of the crude.

Posted by Publisher at February 5, 2007 02:35 PM

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