Nigerian troops attacked three camps used by a militant leader in the Niger River delta as part of a government offensive against armed groups threatening exports from Africa’s biggest oil producer.
“The places we attacked yesterday were positively identified militant camps,” Colonel Timothy Antigha, a military spokesman, said today by phone from the oil hub of Port Harcourt. “The operation is still ongoing.”
The action is focused on camps operated by John Togo and his fighters near the town of Ayakoromor to the west of the southern delta, Antigha said. Togo’s Niger Delta Liberation Force group confirmed the attacks in a statement yesterday.
The crackdown follows a recent surge of attacks by militants in the region who are demanding a greater share of the delta’s oil riches, after a period of relative calm when thousands of fighters disarmed under a government amnesty plan. Armed raids in the delta cut about 28 percent of Nigeria’s oil exports between 2006 and 2009, according to Bloomberg data.
Nigeria is the fifth-largest source of U.S. oil imports. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Total SA and Eni SpA run joint ventures with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. that pump more than 90 percent of the West African nation’s oil.
The Niger Delta Liberation Force yesterday said in an e-mailed statement that the military killed more than 100 unarmed people with bombs and artillery fire on Ayakoromor. The group said the raid didn’t affect its camps, where fighters armed with anti-aircraft weapons were waiting.
Antigha, the military spokesman, denied that civilians were targeted.
“If there are casualties, it must be those we’re looking for,” he said. “A civilian has no business in a camp where there are machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons and dynamite.”
The main armed group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which claimed responsibility for recent attacks on the oil industry, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement that it was planning new raids.