WARRI, Nigeria, Apr 30 (Reuters) A car bombing in the Nigerian oil city of Warri, claimed by militants whose attacks have cut oil exports by a quarter, destroyed at least five tanker trucks, a Reuters witness said today.
The blast late last night in a truck park close to a refinery sent debris flying 100 metres away. There were no reports of casualties and drivers at the park today said the area would have been deserted the night before.
Police and army spokesmen could not be reached for comment.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which demands more local control over the southern delta's oil wealth, said it had used a mobile phone to detonate 30 kg (66 lb) of dynamite in the bombing.
It said the attack was a warning to all people working in the oil industry in Nigeria. It also made specific threats against China which has just signed a major oil deal with Africa's top oil producer.
MEND has staged a series of kidnappings and attacks against the oil sector in the world's eighth-biggest exporter that has forced companies to cut production by 550,000 barrels per day.
This has contributed to recent spikes in world oil prices, including last week's record high at over 75 dollars per barrel.
The militants, who have abducted a total of 13 foreign oil workers this year and held some of them for several weeks, have warned all oil workers to leave the delta and vowed to halt exports completely. They have now freed all the hostages.
The use of car bombs is unusual in Nigeria but it was MEND's second such attack in nine days after a bombing close to an army barracks in Port Harcourt, a major city in a different part of the Niger Delta. That attack killed two civilians.
TRUCK CARCASSES Soldiers guarded the site of the Warri explosion today and it was impossible to get close, but from a distance the blackened carcasses of five tanker trucks were visible.
The explosion, which was heard 4 km away, shattered the windows of the drivers' office 100 metres away and flung a chunk from one of the vehicles into the building where it crashed through a wall.
The Warri refinery has not been functioning for several months and the tanker trucks were empty at the time of the blast, apparently helping avoid a major fire.
MEND said the bombing was a final warning to oil workers and future attacks would be directed against individuals.
''We have resolved to take our campaign out of the creeks (so) that every Nigerian may feel the true pains of the Niger Delta peoples,'' it said in an e-mail sent to the media.
It was referring to the mangrove-lined creeks of the delta where many oil installations are located and where militant attacks, acts of sabotage and crude oil theft are frequent.
''We wish to warn the Chinese government and its oil companies to steer well clear of the Niger Delta ... The Chinese government by investing in stolen crude (oil) places its citizens in our line of fire,'' MEND said.
Earlier this week, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Nigeria and signed deals to explore Nigerian oilfields in return for a commitment to invest 4 billion dollars in infrastructure to help develop Africa's most populous country.
A little-known group that first appeared in December, MEND is a coalition of militias which the government accuses 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 area, where most people live in poverty despite the riches being pumped from their land.
Reuters SI VV1320