Warri (Nigeria), May 31: Nigerian security forces have clashed with oil militants and Biafran secessionists in separate bloody confrontations that killed at least 20 civilians and two police officers, officials and witnesses.
The violence erupted yesterday in Nigeria's restive south as the military mounted an offensive in the oil rich south- central Niger Delta and separatists protested in the southeast.
Over the weekend, soldiers fired on speedboats believed to be carrying Niger Delta militants preparing to strike oil installations and killed or wounded an unknown number, army spokesman Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman said.
The Ijaw Youth Council, a community group, accused soldiers of firing Saturday night on a speedboat trying to evacuate civilians wounded in a military siege of Oporoza, a town reachable only by water or air.
Community leaders say civilians have been wounded and beaten up by soldiers demanding that residents hand over members of the Niger Delta Avengers, a new group that has claimed attacks on strategic pipelines that have halved oil production in a country that used to be Africa's biggest petroleum producer.
The offensive comes as the Avengers have mounted an increasingly fierce campaign targeting oil installations. In recent days, facilities belonging to the Dutch-British Shell company, Italy's Agip, and the US oil giant Chevron have been targeted.
The Avengers have given the oil companies a May 31 deadline to leave Nigeria's southern, oil-producing Niger Delta.
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"Watch out something big is about to happen and it will shock the whole world," the Avengers warned Saturday, addressing international and indigenous oil companies and Nigeria's military.
Army chief Major General Tukur Buratai said the army will not tolerate the militants "killing our soldiers," but did not provide any details about military casualties. Local residents have reported the deaths of at least 10 army and navy personnel and about 30 police officers in the Niger Delta this year.
Community chieftain Elekute Macaulay said reinforcements arrived early yesterday at Oporoza to widen the military siege. He said half of the 40,000 inhabitants have fled to the bush and creeks, and others are afraid to leave their homes.
In separate developments, security forces battled secessionists rallying to commemorate heroes of the 1967-1970 civil war to create a separate state of Biafra in southeast Nigeria. About 1 million people died in that war.