LAGOS (AFP) - Armed militants in Nigeria's Niger Delta Monday claimed attacks against facilities run by US oil giant Chevron and warned FIFA against letting the country host the under-17 World Cup tournament.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in an email statement also threatened to extend its operations beyond Delta State to others in the oil-rich but volatile southern region.
MEND said they had started a huge fire that destroyed Abiteye flow station and blown up two other Chevron facilities there early Monday.
"Hurricane Piper Alpha hit the Abiteye flowstation operated by Chevron today... which resulted in a massive fire outbreak that is consuming the entire facility," it said in the statement.
MEND vowed to move "into the neighboring states of Bayelsa and Rivers before passing through the remaining states of Ondo, Edo and Akwa Ibom then finally head off-shore."
The group also took "this opportunity to advise FIFA to have a re-think about Nigeria hosting the under-17 World Cup tournament at this time, as the safety of international players and visitors cannot be guaranteed due to the current unrest."
The tournament is due to run from October 24 to November 15, and Nigeria has scheduled some matches to be played in the restive region.
FIFA has received security "guarantees" from Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua for the competition, a FIFA source said.
"FIFA has received Nigerian government's total commitment, as well as supplementary guarantees required by FIFA on medical and security issues, signed by Yar'Adua," the source said.
A top FIFA delegation, led by its vice president, Jack Warner, met on Saturday in Abuja Nigerian vice president Goodluck Jonathan.
The spokesman of the Local Organising Committee for the competition, Emeka Odikpo, echoed the same FIFA assurances.
"It is the responsibility of the Nigerian government to gurantee security. FIFA has obtained guarantees from government on the competition. These guarantees were reaffirmed at the weekend in Abuja," Odikpo told AFP.
"Government has said that everybody will be safe and we hold on to that promise," he stated.
The MEND statement also urged people from the Niger Delta region living in northern Nigeria to return home within the next eight weeks.
MEND said it was issuing the warning "because a major event will occur in that part of the country and reprisal attacks directed at them cannot be ruled out."
It gave the same advice to northern Nigerians living in the Niger Delta.
While the north of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim, the south is mainly Christian.
The spokesman of a special military unit in the area, Colonel Rabe Abubakar, downplayed the MEND attack, saying only that there was "a serious exchange" of fire between the militants and troops, but that only Chevron could speak on its facility.
"There was a serious exchange of fire between our troops and them at the flowstation. We were able to chase them away. They fled and there was no casualty on our side. We are waiting for the company has to speak about their facility," he said.
Chevron is "not speculating on any comment while investigations are being undertaken," a company spokesman, Scott Walker, said in a statement to AFP.
One attack in May cost Chevron 100,000 barrels a day in lost production.
MEND, which says it is fighting for a fairer distribution of oil wealth to local people, said it would keep up its operations until oil production in the country had been brought to a halt.
Since 2006, MEND has been sabotaging industry infrastructure and abducting oil workers, to the extent that it has seriously disrupted oil production.
The unrest has caused Nigeria's main export product to fall by nearly a third, from 2.6 million barrels a day in 2006 to 1.8 million currently.
Nigeria derives more than 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from crude production in the Niger Delta region, according to official figures.
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