Nigerian soldiers raid militant camps in oil-rich delta

Targeted enclaves have attacked pipelines, kidnapped oil employees and fought government troops for several years

Published December 1, 2010 10:10PM (EST)

A military spokesman says soldiers have attacked three militant camps in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta.

Lt. Col. Timothy Antigha says a military forces began their attack Wednesday afternoon in Delta state, an oil-producing state in Nigeria's southern Niger Delta. Antigha says soldiers have recovered anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and dynamite in the raid.

Antigha declined to say whether there had been casualties.

Militants in the Niger Delta have attacked pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company employees and fought government troops since 2006.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- The man accused of masterminding the kidnapping of seven foreign oil workers in Nigeria's restive southern delta faces criminal charges as a security crackdown in the region continues, police said Wednesday.

Otonyemie Kuna, 25, known in the creeks of the Niger Delta as "Obese," allegedly orchestrated the kidnapping of seven expatriates working on offshore oil rigs for Exxon Mobil Corp. and London-based Afren PLC. Authorities have described Kuna as a leader in the region's main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, known by the acronym MEND.

Kuna was arraigned Monday at the Port Harcourt Magistrate Court with more than 60 others who faced various charges including kidnapping, armed robbery, murder and rape, said Rivers state police spokeswoman Rita Inoma-Abbey.

In recent weeks, there has been a crackdown on militant and criminal activity in the oil-rich southern delta by both the police and the military. However, MEND has threatened to launch new attacks.

Militants in the Niger Delta have attacked pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company employees and fought government troops since 2006. The attacks cut drastically into crude production in Nigeria, an OPEC-member nation that is crucial to U.S. oil supplies. Production has risen back to 2.2 million barrels of oil a day, in part due to many militant leaders and fighters accepting a government amnesty deal offered last year.

The government has taken a hard line on militancy in the southern delta since the amnesty deal. Securing the delta remains vitally important to President Goodluck Jonathan who hails from the region, as he faces election next year.

"The Niger Delta campaign is now testing his ability to protect Nigeria," said Thompson Ayodele, executive director of the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis in Lagos. "If he fails his political opponents will capitalize on it, saying that he is a man who is not prepared for the job."

By Associated Press

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