Fighting subsides between Nigerian troops and militants in oil region, residents say
LAGOS, Nigeria – Clashes between Nigerian troops and armed militants calmed Monday after firefights around a Royal Dutch Shell PLC Shell oil platform, residents said.Heavily armed fighters attacked the company’s Benisede oil platform in the swamps of the southern Niger Delta at dawn on Sunday, damaging the facility. But nearby residents who reported intense fighting Sunday said the battles had diminished Monday.”The gunshots have stopped for now. But we don’t know what will happen next,” Enitowari Inengin, a resident of the Ozobo fishing community near Benisede, said by telephone.He said people who fled Ozobo as the fighting raged on Sunday were now returning.Shell on Monday confirmed one catering contractor was killed in Sunday’s gunfight, which marked the third assault on its facilities in less than a week in escalating militant violence in the volatile oil region.Shell said it had evacuated more than 300 staffers and contractors from facilities shut down by earlier violence, but vowed it wouldn’t withdraw permanently from the strife-riven region.On Wednesday, gunmen attacked Shell’s EA platform in shallow waters near the delta coast, seizing a Bulgarian, an American, a British and a Honduran. A major Shell pipeline leading to its Forcados export terminal was blown up the following day.The company said recent violence has caused its consortium to cut 106,000 barrels in daily crude production. Nigeria is Africa’s leading oil exporter and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports. The country produces about 2.5 million barrels a day.A previously unknown militant group, Movement for Niger Delta Emancipation, claimed responsibility for first two attacks, warning all Western oil companies to leave the Niger Delta for their safety and calling on the government to release militia leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari.Dokubo-Asari campaigned for secession and greater local control of oil wealth before he was jailed in September and charged with treason.Violence, hostage-taking and sabotage of oil operations are common in the oil-rich Niger Delta where by the region’s impoverished communities for a greater share of the oil revenue flowing from their land. Hostages are rarely harmed.