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Gunmen kill 12 people in Nigeria

Gunmen killed 12 people including four community chiefs in an attack on a commercial boat in the remote creeks of Niger Delta.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2007 14:52 IST

Gunmen killed 12 people including four community chiefs in an attack on a commercial boat in the remote creeks of Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta, police said on Tuesday.

Western oil companies evacuated staff from three oilfields in the area, accounting for about 60,000 barrels per day of production, but company spokesmen said they could not confirm if output had stopped.

Sources in the Kula community where the attack took place said it was caused by a long-running dispute between local factions over the distribution of money given by oil companies operating there.

The attack took place on Sunday, when gunmen opened fire on the boat carrying 14 passengers to Kula in the coastal area of Rivers state, a maze of mangrove-lined creeks.

"There are just two survivors who are being treated for bullet wounds in Port Harcourt," said a police spokeswoman in the Rivers state capital.

In spill-over action on Monday night, one faction set a house boat at Shell's Ekulama 2 oilfield station on fire, a military source said. Ekulama 2 is the largest of three oilfields in the area, which together pump 60,000 barrels a day.

"We have evacuated staff from the platform, but as of yesterday night production was still on," a Shell source said.

The violence did not fit the delta's usual pattern of militant raids on oil production facilities or kidnappings of oil workers for ransom.

The police spokeswoman said a team was on its way to the area to investigate the killings. Troops have also been sent into the area, which has been the scene of repeated communal clashes and oil facility invasions over the past few years.

Kula community sources said a faction that had challenged the authority of local chiefs to decide how to share out money and benefits given by oil companies had been driven out of the area two years ago.

That faction was now trying to come back into the community and fighting erupted last Friday, the sources said, adding that several houses were burnt.

The chiefs who were killed on Sunday were among the community elders who had been in control over the past two years.

The security situation in the delta worsened in 2006 and many fear it will deteriorate further in the build-up to the Nigerian elections scheduled for April as armed thugs sponsored by local politicians return to action.

The delta accounts for all oil production from Nigeria, the world's eighth-biggest exporter, and poverty fuels militancy and crime in its riverine communities. A fifth of oil production capacity is shut down due to attacks last year.

A militant group fighting for local control over oil assets has been holding captive three Italians and one Lebanese employed by Italian oil firm Agip since December 7 in another part of the delta.

Five Chinese telecom workers are also being held hostage in Rivers state after they were kidnapped for ransom on January 5.

First Published: Jan 16, 2007 14:52 IST