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Thursday, June 3, 1999 Published at 03:05 GMT 04:05 UK

World: Africa

Nigeria reinforces oil town

People in the Niger delta resent their poverty

The authorities in Nigeria have closed the port and deployed soldiers in Warri, the capital of Delta state, following an outbreak of fighting around the town.

At least 100 people are reported to have been killed after militant youths from the Ijaw community attacked ethnic Itsekiris in the village of Arunton.

Local leaders and government officials have been meeting to discuss the crisis.

The dispute relates to demands by the Ijaws for their own local government.

The governor of Delta State, where the fighting erupted last weekend, said that only 26 people were confirmed dead and local leaders of the ethnic groups involved were talking to each other now that calm had been restored.

"I have spoken to the leaders of the area, to both parties, and they have started the reconciliation process. They have seen that it's senseless killing one another," Governor James Ibori said.

Threat to oil terminal

Fighting erupted on Sunday, the day after President Olusegun Obasanjo took office, ending 15 years of military rule.

[ image: Exports from the Niger Delta are a mainstay of the economy]
Exports from the Niger Delta are a mainstay of the economy
Ijaw militants attacked the Itsekiri village of Arunton, near US-based Chevron Corporation's Escravos oil export terminal.

"So far more than 100 people have died and we have sent in soldiers to protect oil installations at Escravos and maintain peace," an officer of the 20th Amphibious Battalion stationed in the oil town of Warri told Reuters by phone.

Chevron officials said on Tuesday that the company had contacted Nigeria's new government after it received a letter from Ijaw militants threatening to blow up its facilities in the area, including its main storage depot and a gas plant.

Renewed ethnic fighting around Warri, where several oil multinational companies have their operational bases, presents the new civilian president with his first emergency in the volatile oil region.

Scores of people died in fighting sparked early in 1997 by government relocation of a local council headquarters from an Ijaw to an Itsekiri area. The latest fighting appears to be the most intense so far.

Disruptions in the last year due to protests by militant youths for amenities and more access to power have hurt Nigeria's oil exports and income at a time of low oil prices, leaving the new civilian government with a severe economic crisis.

Solution needed

Successive military governments have been unable to solve the crisis in the Delta but President Obasanjo has pledged to do his best to find a solution.

It is the latest in a series of clashes between the Ijaw and the Itsekiri - the two main ethnic communities in the Niger Delta.

The two groups have been fighting since the beginning of 1997, although their disputes over land ownership go back hundreds of years.

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