13 September, 2008

TOTAL WAR?

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

MEND suffers heavy casualty in offensive with the JTF

Bolaji Ogundele, Port Harcourt - 14.09.2008

Having lost about seven of its men to an offensive with the Joint Task Force (JTF) Operation Flush Out 3, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) says it is commencing another armed campaign against the nation's oil interest.

As a first course of action, the armed group has given oil and gas related companies in the region to evacuate their expatriate workers from the region within the next 24 hours to avert loss of personnel.

Sunday Tribune gathered that clash between the JTF and a group of armed men from MEND ensued early yesterday when MEND attacked a patrol team of the men around Elem Tombia in Rivers state.

According to a text message from the spokesman of the JTF, Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, the exchange of gun fire was sparked off when unknown militant group members opened fire on a JTF patrol team around Elem Tombia.

Though he said the army patrol sustained no casualty, he said they did not just leave the place without fighting back. "It was on such patrol today at about 1035hour, at Elem Tombia that unknown group of militants opened fire on our patrol team, which resulted in an exchange of fire.

"The aircraft seen hovering around the place was just for routine surveillance and reconnaissance, no cause for alarm. No casualty was recorded on our side and the situation is under control", Musa said.

But on the contrary, the militant group claimed the attack was "unprovoked", vowing that all its separate positions in the region would go all out to avenge the loss of its men.

In two separate messages from its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, the group claimed an earlier attack claimed three persons from its rank, while an updated version put the casualty figure at seven, with several wounded .

"Tombia, Rivers state, 1245 Hrs: MEND fighters have suffered about three casualties and RPG's were fired on two army attack helicopters that came at close range. We suspect one of them may have been damaged. The helicopters were repelled and have not returned. No news of enemy casualties. Fierce fighting is still going on with MEND fighters adopting guerrilla tactics.

"At about 0900 Hrs today, September 13, 2008, the armed forces of Nigeria began a full scale aerial and marine offensive on the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) positions and neighboring Ijaw communities in Rivers state with helicopter gunships, jet fighters and over 20 gun boats and landing crafts filled with heavily armed soldiers mainly from the northern axis of Nigeria.

"We hold the governor of Rivers state and the president of Nigeria accountable for the genocide on the defenseless civilians who are bearing the brunt from indiscriminate airforce bombs.

"All MEND positions in the Niger delta will respond to this unprovoked attack coming at a time the government is canvassing the so-called Niger Delta Ministry to hoodwink the people", Gbomo claimed. He later said "1500 Hrs: Seven fighters have so far been lost in the attack by the army on our position in Rivers state with several others injured. Three army helicopter gunships returned and began firing missiles indiscriminately into the mangrove vegetation because of the excellent camouflage of our men and boats.

"We can not tell the casualties from the army who have suffered some losses from sniper rifles", adding "this may be the beginning of a full scale oil war".

The group, which blamed the federal and Rivers state governments for the assault, however, gave a 24- hour ultimatum to oil companies to evacuate their expatriate workers from the area.

"Oil companies are warned to move out their workers within the next 24 hours because a hurricane is about to sweep through oil installations in the entire Niger Delta region", the group warned.

About 27 oil workers, including five foreigners; British, South Africans and Ukrainians, were declared trapped in the ongoing military/militant offensive going on in the creeks. The oil workers were abducted from MT Blue Ocean.

In the ongoing offensive, the militants claimed, two communities, Elem Tombia and Ogboma have been heavily hit with high civilian casualties.

"The 27 oil workers rescued yesterday by MEND from the pirates that kidnapped them from the MT Blue Ocean and taken to the camp under attack to be offered as a reward leverage for the release of Henry Okah are trapped in the fighting between our fighters and the Nigerian military forces.

"The workers are made up of five expatriates from Britain, South Africa and Ukraine, while the remaining twenty two are Nigerians. "It was learnt that the military on faulty intelligence as usual embarked on what is now a botched rescue attempt.

"Some of the oil workers are injured but are being treated with the same local herbs we are using in treating our wounded. The Red Cross or doctors from MSF should be allowed passage to attend to them. Injuries are mainly from high caliber machine guns and shrapnel.

"Meanwhile, two civilian communities; Elem Tombia and Ogboma have been razed to the ground by the rampaging soldiers who have not been able to take our positions. Civilian casualties are high", MEND claimed

Meanwhile, the National Coordinator of Oodua Peoples Congress, Otunba Gani Adams has said that the idea of total war against the people of the Niger Delta would only aggravate the problem because the people are determined to fight with their blood and when people are fighting with their blood no amount of intimidation can suppress them.

He added that if the Federal Government succeeds now the solution will be temporary as coming generation will continue with the struggle.

He said the idea of setting up a ministry for Niger Delta is not the answer as it is just a mere duplication of NDDC. He said the best way out of the problem is to review the constitution in such a way that it will give the people at least 50 per cent control of their resources.

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