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Written by: Staff

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Apr 20 (Reuters) A car bomb at an army barracks in Nigeria's southern city of Port Harcourt killed three people yesterday night, a military source said today, and militants said they had detonated the bomb.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose attacks on the world's eighth-largest oil exporter have cut output by a quarter, threatened in an email to carry out more such attacks on oil industry targets and individuals.

''The explosion shattered many vehicles. The whole place is littered with wreckage,'' said a military source who lives in the Bori barracks in Port Harcourt, asking not to be named.

''Three people died and several others sustained injuries and they were taken to the military hospital.'' MEND, which has demanded more local autonomy over the Niger Delta's oil revenues, said they detonated the bomb by remote control.

They said the attack was ''symbolic rather than strategic'', and served as a warning that the military was unable to protect itself, let alone oil workers at fields dotted around the vast region of mangrove-lined creeks in Nigeria's far south.

The group has waged a four-month campaign of sabotage and kidnapping against Africa's top oil producer, forcing companies to cut prodcution by 550,000 barrels per day and helping drive world oil prices to record highs.

It released the last of its Western oil worker hostages in March after holding two Americans and a Briton for five weeks.

MORE ATTACKS The militants have warned all oil workers to leave the delta in Nigeria's far south and vowed to halt exports completely.

''In the coming weeks, we will carry out similar attacks against relevant oil industry targets and individuals,'' MEND said.

A little-known group that first appeared in December, it is a coalition of militias which the government has branded ''rascals'' and accused of involvement in a lucrative trade in stolen crude oil.

But its demands -- which also include the release of two jailed leaders from the region and compensation for oil spills -- are shared by many activists in the neglected zone, where most people live in poverty despite the riches being pumped from their land.

President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to address some of these grievances this week by promising to build a $1.8 billion highway across the delta, a region almost the size of England, and create 20,000 government jobs for the growing ranks of young unemployed.

MEND rejected the initiative and has insisted on its demands for local control of the region's oil resources.

Analysts link the violence to instability ahead of next year's presidential election. Different tribal and regional groups believe it's their turn to run multi-ethnic Nigeria after eight years of Obasanjo, a Yoruba from the southwest.

These hopefuls have been infuriated by a powerful campaign to amend the constitution and allow Obasanjo to hold onto power for a third consecutive term.

Opposition to the third-term amendment, which is due to be debated by the National Assembly next week, has also spread across the north and south-east of Nigeria, where 150 people were killed in rioting in February.

Reuters SHB GC1602

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