Nigeria oil rebels claim attack over talks delay
By Nick Tattersall
LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerian militants said on Saturday they had carried out their first attack on an oil pipeline since an amnesty offer because the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua was delaying peace talks.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said its fighters, armed with rocket launchers and machine guns, carried out a "warning strike" overnight on a Royal Dutch Shell or Chevron pipeline in Abonemma, Rivers state.
There was no independent confirmation of the incident.
The military joint taskforce (JTF), which polices the Niger Delta, said it could not immediately verify the attack. A Shell spokesperson and security contractors working in the oil industry said they had received no reports of a pipeline strike.
If confirmed, the attack would be a severe blow to peace efforts by Yar'Adua's administration, which has pledged to spend billions of dollars developing the region after thousands of gunmen accepted a presidential amnesty which ended in October.
Attacks by MEND on Africa's biggest oil and gas industry in the past three years have prevented the OPEC member from producing much above two-thirds of its capacity, costing it about $1 billion a month in lost revenues.
The instability has at times helped push up world oil prices.
On Saturday, MEND accused the government of using the ill health of Yar'Adua, who has been in Saudi Arabia for more than three weeks receiving treatment for a heart condition, to stall negotiations promised as part of the amnesty programme. Continued...