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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Militants attack Nigerian oil facility, kill 5

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, June 7 (Reuters) - Militants attacked a Shell-operated oil facility in the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria on Wednesday, killing at least five soldiers and kidnapping five South Korean contractors.

The attack comes just three days after eight foreign oil workers were released by a different group of kidnappers, and is the latest sign of rising militancy across the oil heartland of Africa's top producer.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which launched a series of attacks earlier this year that forced the closure of a quarter of Nigerian oil output, threatened strikes on crucial oil facilities in the next few weeks.

MEND said Wednesday's raid was in response to a court decision on Tuesday to deny bail to militant leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who is on trial for treason. The group had previously cited Asari's release as one of its demands.

"We are of the opinion that the government of Nigeria may be interested more in a prisoner exchange rather than releasing the person whose release we have demanded," the group said in an emailed statement.

The kidnap of the South Koreans comes after Nigeria awarded companies from South Korea oil exploration rights in return for promises of investment in Nigerian infrastructure.

The abductions coincide with a visit to South Korea by Nigerian Minister of State for Petroleum Edmund Daukoru, who is also OPEC president.

MEND said it had captured and burnt a house boat used by army and police assigned to the protection of the Shell facility, and an unknown number of security forces had been killed in a fierce firefight.

The militants then kidnapped the five South Koreans, whom they said had been taken to a MEND base where they were safe and would not be harmed unless the base was attacked.

The group said that as the militants left the oil facility, they came under attack from four Nigerian army boats. The militants said they sunk one of the boats, killing at least five of its six occupants, while the other boats suffered an unknown number of casualties.

MEND said one of its fighters was killed.

Earlier, a coalition of three militant groups calling itself the Joint Revolutionary Council claimed responsibility for the night-time attack. The coalition includes MEND.

In Seoul, a Foreign Ministry official confirmed that five South Koreans were kidnapped.

Three of the South Korean workers are from Daewoo Engineering and Construction Co. <047040.KS> and the other two were from Korea Gas Corp. <036460.KS>, a Foreign Ministry official said.

A Korea Gas spokesman said one South Korean employee of the company and another at an affiliated company were taken captive in Nigeria. The workers were testing the operations at a gas plant, the spokesman said.

Industry sources said the workers were under contract to Royal Dutch Shell in Cawthorne Channel. A Shell spokesman was not immediately available to comment. (Additional reporting by Tom Ashby in Lagos, Estelle Shirbon in Abuja, Jon Herskovitz and Park Sung-woo in Seoul)
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