Abuja: Nigeria`s military warned
civilians to leave areas where militants hide in the creeks of
its oil-rich southern delta, a potential sign of a major
offensive in the region.
The stark warning by Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff
Oluseyi Petinrin comes after the kidnapping of seven
expatriate workers from an offshore oil rig and a nearby
support ship working for London-based Afren PLC. It also
represents the first official acknowledgement that a
government-sponsored amnesty programme failed to end violence
in the restive Niger Delta.
Petinrin said no one should be living in militant
camps after the amnesty programme, which offered cash payouts
and the promise of job training. While satisfying many former
militant commanders, rank-and-file fighters have grown
increasingly upset over the prospect of no jobs in a region
beset by endemic poverty despite 50 years of oil production.
Petinrin warned civilians to leave so soldiers and the
navy could "avoid any collateral damage".
"I want to repeat that these people are criminals and
will be treated as such," he said. "Many of these criminals
are known to be hiding in camps within the creeks of Niger
Delta. These camps will no longer be tolerated."
Nigeria, an OPEC-member nation, is a top crude oil
supplier to the US.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta,
also known by the acronym MEND, began a campaign of pipeline
bombings and high-profile kidnappings in 2006. The region of
winding creeks and mangroves is about the size of Portugal.
Several MEND commanders took part in a
government-sponsored amnesty deal last year to lay down their
weapons, but a faction remains active. Most recently, MEND
claimed responsibility for an October 1 car bomb attack that
struck Nigeria`s capital, Abuja, killing at least 12 people
and wounding dozens more.