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Page last updated at 10:39 GMT, Monday, 1 September 2008 11:39 UK

Nigeria denies militant attacks

Oil militant
Mend sends regular e-mails to journalists making claims

The Nigerian military has denied it clashed with militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta region.

The militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said it launched three coordinated attacks on Saturday.

It claimed to have killed 29 soldiers in the attacks, which it said took place in three different states.

But a military spokesman said the claim was "propaganda" and no attacks had taken place.

In an e-mail to journalists, Mend spokesman Jomo Gbomo said the attacks took place on military positions deep in the mangrove creeks of the Niger Delta in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States.

"Journalists should visit the locations mentioned above as soon as possible to witness the wreck of gunboats which were still burning when we left, to forestall any denial by the military," the e-mail said.

Mend claimed to have used grenade launchers and Soviet-era anti-tank missiles in the attacks, which it said had left six militants dead.

But Lt Col Sagir Musa said the claim was "dubious and sordid propaganda".

Highest toll

The militant's claim could not be immediately verified by journalists.

But if true, it would be the highest death toll in a single day in a conflict that has escalated in recent months.

Map

Mend came to prominence in 2006 when it began kidnapping oil workers and sending their pictures to news desks around the world.

Since key Mend leader Henry Okah was arrested in February last year, the group has made claims that turned out not to be true.

In March, it falsely claimed Mr Okah had been shot dead while in custody.

It also claimed former US President Jimmy Carter had agreed to mediate a peace deal when he had not.

But last month Mend orchestrated the release of two German hostages held by another militant group, a change in tactics that activists called "encouraging".

Mend, the most publicly visible militant group in the Niger Delta, says it is fighting for a better deal for the people of the oil-rich region.

But billions of dollars have been given by the Federal Government to states in the Niger Delta, with very little development to show for it.

The BBC's Andrew Walker in Nigeria says groups of armed youths can easily exploit an almost complete breakdown of government authority in the Delta to make money from extortion and violence.



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