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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK

World: Africa

New clashes in Nigeria's oil region

People in the Niger Delta resent their poverty

By Barnaby Phillips in Lagos

Evacuations are continuing in Nigeria's troubled Niger Delta after a renewed oubreak of ethnic violence, which left 10 dead according to unconfirmed reports.

According to local newspaper reports, several people have been killed in clashes between the Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups, but this has not been confirmed by the authorities.

Barnaby Phillips: "Poor resent poverty in this oil-rich region"
Oil companies say they have been evactuating staff and injured villagers from areas of conflict. One source said more than 80 people had already been evacuated from an area outside the southern oil town of Warri and that the operation was continuing.

Journalists in Warri are reporting that Ijaw youths have burnt down two Itsekiri villages in retaliation for an earlier attack on some Ijaw people. The journalists say that soldiers have been sent into the Escravos area to prevent the situation from escalating, but again, this has not been confirmed.

Long-running dispute

The dispute between the Ijaw and Itsekiri people has been simmering for some time.

There has been sporadic fighting between the two ethnic groups since the beginning of 1997 when the authorities moved a local government headquarters from an Ijaw to an Itsekiri area.

Impoverished rural communities in Nigeria feel strongly about the location of local government offices because they are one of the few available sources of money and development projects.

And, in the oil-producing Niger Delta, people are especially resentful of their poverty in a region which creates so much of Nigeria's wealth.

The Ijaws and the Itsekiris trace their argument over land ownership over hundreds of years. Theirs is just one of the myriad of ethnic conflicts which threaten Nigeria's stability, just as the military government is stepping down and the country embarks on a new attempt at civilian rule.

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