AFX News Limited 6/18/2007
Unidentified gunmen have occupied an oil pipeline switching center in Nigeria and are preventing local workers and security forces from leaving, company officials said Monday.
Some two dozen Nigerian workers and soldiers are being held after the attack Sunday on a flow station in southern Bayelsa state, Italian energy giant Eni Spa said in a statement. No injuries were reported, it said.
The company statement didn't say if crude output had been curtailed and a spokesman in Nigeria had no information on the attack. Government officials weren't immediately available for comment. Eni operates in Nigeria through its Agip subsidiary.
The grievances of the gunmen weren't known. Troops clashed last week with gunmen in the area, leaving several fighters dead.
Nearly two years of spiraling violence in the oil-producing southern Niger Delta have cut Nigeria's crude output by about one quarter, sending oil prices higher in overseas markets.
New President Umaru Yar'Adua has said the crisis is one of the most-pressing matters he faces and a top militant leader was released on bail last week, marking a breakthrough in the conflict pitting militants against security forces.
The militants are pressing for more government-controlled oil-industry funds for their region, which remains desperately poor despite its vast natural bounty.
But their stepped-up attacks have helped degrade overall security conditions in the vast region of creeks and swamps and criminal gangs who kidnap foreigners now operate with apparent impunity. Some 200 foreign workers in the region have been kidnapped since December 2005, including more than 100 this year alone.
In addition, tension over local grievances -- such as a community accusing an oil company of failing to make good on promises of financial help -- sometimes results in attacks or kidnappings.
Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and one of the top overseas suppliers to the United States.
Copyright 2007 AFX News Limited. All Rights Reserved.
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