Militants in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region say they have killed
22 government soldiers as part of an "oil war" following a major battle
with security forces.
The region's main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), says it has begun what it calls a "hurricane" of attacks on oil facilities in southern Rivers state. It says the "oil war" is in retaliation for a deadly military offensive against the militants in Rivers state Saturday.
In a statement on Sunday, the group said it has already destroyed flow stations and oil pipelines belonging to U.S.-based oil giant Chevron and the Royal Dutch Shell company.
A military spokesman says government forces are battling militants in the region, but he denied any military casualties.
Chevron confirms one of its oil platforms was attacked, but officials say the facility was not in operation at the time. Shell officials say they are still investigating reports of an attack on their facilities.
MEND says seven of its fighters were killed in the full-scale military operation Saturday. It says its operation will continue until the government appreciates that the solution to peace in the Niger Delta is justice, respect and dialogue.
A rebel commander, Tom Polo, tells VOA that militants plan to increase their attacks before Nigeria's Independence Day on October first.
President Umaru Yar'Adua is coming under increasing pressure to quell the unrest, which has slashed Nigeria's crude oil output by more than 20 percent since 2005.
The Delta has been the scene of numerous kidnappings, pipeline sabotage, and other attacks during the last 33 months, much of it focused against the oil industry.