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Friday, August 18, 2006

Oil firms expect more violence in Niger Delta

Lagos - Western oil multinationals in Nigeria, already reeling from kidnappings and sabotage, are bracing for more violence after the government told troops to use "force for force" in the Niger Delta

The security crackdown ordered by President Olusegun Obasanjo has stoked fears of deeper disruptions to oil supplies from the world's eighth largest exporter because oil executives say it may simply escalate the conflict.

"If the military goes on the offensive now there will be a bloodbath," a senior foreign oil executive said, asking not be named.

Militant attacks have already forced foreign oil companies to cut Nigerian output by a quarter since February. The government's approach until now has been to address some of the demands of the militants, promising much-needed development to the neglected delta region.

But a string of kidnappings of foreign workers around the southern oil city of Port Harcourt in the past two weeks, including one in a nightclub popular with expatriates, appears to have forced a change of tack.

"The armed forces and police have been directed to meet criminal elements in the Niger Delta 'force for force'," the presidency quoted Obasanjo as saying in a statement on Tuesday after a meeting with security chiefs and delta politicians.

Previous military assaults in the delta, involving helicopter gunships and patrol boats equipped with machine guns, have brought accusations of human rights violations and inflamed tensions in vast wetlands region further.

The latest wave of violence has coincided with a series of suspected political assassinations, which analysts say could herald a wider break-down of law and order across Africa's most populous nation.

Militancy, riots and assassinations are the dark side of political life in Nigeria, which returned to democracy in 1999 after three decades of almost unbroken military dictatorship.

Elections next April are set to mark the first time in the country's coup-prone history that one elected president hands over to another.

"Oil companies do not expect any significant improvement in security at least until after elections next year," said Kevin Rosser of Control Risks consultancy in London.
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