Tension mounts in Warri over fresh militia attack

Fears are mounting of renewed fighting between rival ethnic militias in Nigeria’s southern oil town of Warri following reports that one of the groups had broken a two-month-old truce, residents said on Tuesday.

Residents of the town, which serves as a base for oil transnationals operating in the oil-rich Niger Delta, said a militia of the Itsekiri ethnic group had attacked six rival ethnic Ijaw riverside settlements last week, killing at least 10 people.

"Based on a now familiar pattern we expect the Ijaws to retaliate on the Itsekiris, most of whom have settled inside the town since these past few years of continuous fighting," Benjamin Oghere, a resident, told IRIN.

He said people had started moving out of known trouble spots, while troops stationed in the town by President Olusegun Obasanjo to end the perennial violence there, had been on high alert.

Adding to the tension has been a statement on Monday by a group which identified itself as the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), vowing to retaliate against the attack and asking foreigners working in the oilfields around Warri to leave the area for their safety.

"The IYC has resolved that henceforth every attack on our villages by the Itsekiris will be matched with equal actions,"” the group said.

More than 200 people have been killed this year in fighting between Ijaws and Itsekiris around Warri. Much of the fighting have been over claims of ownership of oil bearing land, which the poor communities in the region believe will attract to them amenities and other benefits that flow from oil production.

Following fighting in October in which more than 100 people had died, the Nigerian government had sent in a military taskforce to pacify the region and it has since imposed a fragile truce between the warring sides.

Maj-Gen Elias Zamani, commander of the taskforce, confirmed to reporters at the weekend there was an attack on some Ijaw communities but could not give any casualty figures. He said patrols had been stepped up to prevent any further escalation of the violence.