Nigeria's main militant group said Thursday it had carried out two attacks on the army and warned oil firms in the southern Niger Delta to evacuate staff before the "arrival of an imminent hurricane." The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said the attacks overnight were on police and army bases in the Niger Delta. The statement did not mention victims.
MEND said the raids came after military attacks on two of its camps in Delta State on Wednesday morning. It claimed to have sunk two army gunboats "with several casualties on the side of the army" in the ensuing battle.
The militants then "launched pre-emptive simultaneous attacks on two military Joint Task Force marine bases in Delta state in response to a planned punitive invasion on some protesting oil communities," they said. "As we begin stripping the oil industry naked of an unreliable cover, oil workers are advised to don the cloak of common sense and evacuate all oil facilities in the Niger Delta before the arrival of an imminent hurricane."
The group extended its ultimatum for staff to leave until midnight Saturday after an earlier statement mentioned a 24- hour ultimatum. "Oil companies operating in the region are advised to evacuate their staff within the next 24 hours to avoid them being part of the statistics of an emerging civil war," the statement on Wednesday had said.
"All freedom fighters in the Niger Delta have been placed on alert to defend their positions and unleash a horrible toll on the oil industry and the Nigerian economy," the militants said.
A spokesman for the special military body in the volatile region, the Joint Task Force, confirmed Wednesday's clash but denied the army lost any men. "We are aware there was an encounter this morning. They ambushed our people. We had to defend ourselves. Only two of our soldiers were wounded in the attack. We did not record any casualty at all," Colonel Rabe Abubakar told AFP.
"It is sheer propaganda on their part," he stated. On January 30, MEND said it was ending a unilateral ceasefire and threatened to unleash a new wave of violence, but failed to make good on its threat.
MEND has been behind a wave of attacks on oil installations and kidnappings of foreign oil workers which has reduced the country's oil output by 25 percent. They say they are fighting for a fair distribution of oil wealth to local communities in the impoverished delta.
Unrest has cost Nigeria its position is Africa's leading crude exporter. Its oil output has fallen by about a quarter since 2006, largely as a result of unrest in the Delta.
Nigeria, a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, derives more than 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from crude oil.