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Barnaby Phillips reports
Many youths reported killed
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 21:03 GMT
Troubled Delta gets emergency aid

The Nigerian Government has announced a large budget allocation for the troubled oil-producing Niger Delta region, in an attempt to quell recent unrest.

The sum of $600m was set aside for next year for the nine states in the Delta.

Correspondents say this is the amount that should normally be allocated as a constitutional right but has rarely been paid by the federal government in the past.

A further $50m has been made available immediately "to kickstart development".

Vice-President Atiku Abubakar said the government was committed to developing the Niger Delta, which he conceded had been neglected.

Stop the killing! Stop the drilling!
Slogan heard in the Delta
The oil-producing area remains tense as the army continues its operation against youths of the Ijaw ethnic group blamed for the killing of 12 policemen.

A spokesman for President Olusegun Obasanjo said the level of poverty in the area made it essential that the government act quickly. The approved projects include technical training for youths, road building and an improved power supply to the region.

Large parts of Bayelsa state remain sealed off in the army's biggest deployment since the end of military rule in May.

The army was sent in as part of what the Nigerian Government said was an attempt to avert a complete breakdown of law and order in the region.

Eyewitnesses say hundreds of people have fled the military operation.

BBC correspondent Barnaby Phillips says the announcement of new development projects for the area is a recognition by the government that it needs to urgently improve the lives of the people of the Delta if its credibility there is not to slip further.

Army account

Talking publicly for the first time about the recent military operations, an army spokesman told the BBC that troops had initially encountered well-armed resistance and had suffered casualties, but he said the army was respecting the lives of innocent civilians.

refugees Hundreds of people have been displaced
A spokesman in Port Harcourt said fewer than 300 troops had attacked the fishing town of Ogi and according to him some Ijaw youths were captured, while others had fled and were now "being fished out".

He denied accounts from refugees that indiscriminate force had been used. He said reports that the army had used artillery were not true.

Soldiers have barred journalists from entering the area close to the fighting, making it difficult to obtain independent information.

Anonymous government officials in Port Harcourt have been quoted as saying 43 people have been killed since the army entered the region late on Friday.

Military officials said that number was exaggerated but declined to give a death toll.

The New-York based Human Rights Watch says it has reports of "indiscriminate reprisals" against civilians in the Delta which are making the situation worse.

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See also:
06 Nov 98 |  Africa
Fighting the oil firms
22 Apr 99 |  Crossing continents
Feature: The Akassa approach
03 Jun 99 |  Africa
Nigeria reinforces oil town
07 May 99 |  Africa
New clashes in Nigeria's oil region

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