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Last Updated: Monday, 27 August 2007, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
Nigeria oil city in slum clean-up
By Fidelis Mbah
BBC News, Port Harcourt

Port Harcourt
Port Harcourt residents raise their hands as they approach road blocks
All waterfront buildings and shacks in Nigeria's oil capital, Port Harcourt are to be demolished, officials say.

Rivers State government says the shacks have become hideouts for the armed militants who are behind the violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

Although the government plans to build modern houses to replace the shacks, the villagers have rejected the move.

Some 25 coastal villages are to be affected by the clean up ordered by the governor, Celestine Omehia.

But villagers want the government to provide alternative shelter for them before setting the bulldozers on their shanty towns, home to about one million low income families.

Turf war

They also say the demolition will "deface" their cultural heritage as they have lived in these seaside slums for hundreds of years.

map

Port Harcourt has been the scene of recent gun battles between rival gangs locked in a turf war in the oil city where crime rates are very high.

Security forces have set up roadblocks and mounted patrols in some areas of the city.

Some of the villages marked for demolition are built with wood and are poorly planned.

Mr Omehia says the demolition of the slums is a price the villagers have to pay if peace is to return to the violence-torn oil-rich southern state.

'Harbouring militants'

"We won't allow that because such a move will deface the culture of our people", Derek Achisomie, president of Port Harcourt aborigines said.

The governor also says the villagers have been harbouring armed militants who are behind the recent upsurge in violence in the state capital Port Harcourt.

Nigerian militants
Nigerian militants have caused havoc in Port Harcourt

Nigeria, Africa's top oil producer is also the third largest exporter to the US.

The bulk of the oil comes from the Niger Delta, a heavily impoverished region where oil explorations have led to environmental problems and spawned violence.

The security situation in southern Nigeria's oil-producing region has deteriorated since early 2006 with attacks on oil installations and foreign workers kidnapped for ransom.

The main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), agreed to a ceasefire last month but recently threatened to resume attacks.

The unrest has led to a 25% cut in oil output from Nigeria - Africa's largest producer.

President Umaru Yar'Adua has said tackling the unrest in the south is one of his top priorities.


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