LAGOS (AFP) — A Nigerian rebel group said Tuesday it had blown up and destroyed a Royal Dutch Shell pipeline in the latest attack in its "oil war" on western firms.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) also said it would soon release two South African hostages it rescued from pirates.
Shell did not immediately confirm the pipeline attack, but MEND has already attacked a Shell flow station since declaring its war on Sunday. It attacked a Chevron facility hours before the declaration.
A Nigerian army officer however said the attack on the Shell installation was repelled.
"Soldiers sighted the militants in time and confronted them so they dropped their explosives which detonated," Lieutenant-Colonel Musa Sagir, spokesman for the unit of the Nigerian army tasked with policing the Niger Delta, told AFP.
MEND is the most prominent armed group in the Delta region which says it is fighting for local people to get a greater share of the huge oil revenues. Since it began operating in early 2006 it has cut Nigeria's oil production by a quarter.
"A major crude oil pipeline at Bakana Front in Degema Local Government Area ... was destroyed with high explosives by MEND detonation engineers backed by heavily-armed fighters," MEND said in an email statement to the media.
Bakana is in Rivers State, the heart of the oil region. The two earlier attacks on Shell's Alakiri flowstation and on a Chevron facility at Robertkiri are in the same state.
MEND declared an all-out war on the oil industry at the weekend in response to what it said was an unprovoked attack by the Nigerian military on one of its positions on Saturday.
Other less prominent armed groups appear to have either joined forces with MEND or taken advantage of the confusion.
Unidentified gunmen on Monday night kidnapped a Briton in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers, Sagir told AFP, without giving further details.
There was no immediate confirmation from British embassy sources.
MEND also announced it would soon free two South Africans who were among 27 people, also including 22 Nigerians and three people who are British or Ukrainian, it rescued from pirates on Friday.
MEND said it was persuaded to release the two by an appeal from Azuka Okah, wife of Henry Okah, one of the group's leaders detained in secret in the centre of Nigeria.
Azuka Ohah said she and her children considered South Africa their home since her husband's detention in September 2007 and have been well-received there.
"In consideration of the above, MEND will be ... releasing the two hostages to the care of the South African government representative at the earliest convenience after working out the modalities including safety concerns since the creek is now a war zone," the group said in a separate statement.
MEND had said Saturday it was planning to hold all 27 hostages as leverage for Okah's release. It said some of the men had been injured when the Nigerian army attacked a MEND camp.
The Nigerian army said it had raided a camp of fighters led by Ateke Tom, a local warlord, in the Alakiri area.
Sagir gave no further details of the raid but said the army had uncovered "a plot to destabilise Rivers State". He said local armed groups had set aside their differences to mount the plot together.
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