Nigerian army undecided on broader delta offensive

Fri Jun 5, 2009 2:30pm EDT

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* Two more militant camps destroyed

* No decision on widening campaign in Delta

* Risk of retaliatory attacks on oil facilities - analysts

By Austin Ekeinde

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, June 5 (Reuters) - The Nigerian military said on Friday it had destroyed two more militant camps in the western Niger Delta but had not yet decided whether to extend its campaign into neighbouring oil-producing states.

Security forces last month launched their biggest offensive in years to dislodge rebel fighters in Delta state, one of three main states in the Niger Delta, bombarding militant camps from the air and sea before sending in hundreds of ground troops.

The lower house of parliament passed a resolution two weeks ago urging President Umaru Yar'Adua to expand the campaign into neighbouring Bayelsa and Rivers states, a move analysts said could raise the risk of retaliatory attacks on oil facilities.

"No decision has yet been taken on when and whether we are to extend the military offensive to other parts of the Niger Delta," said Colonel Rabe Abubakar, spokesman for the region's military task force.

"However, for now we will immediately respond anytime, anywhere there is a threat. What we are doing right now in Delta state is to consolidate our positions and gains we have made."

Abubakar said the military had discovered and destroyed two rebel bases -- Bulobala Camp and Iroko Camp Annex -- in Delta state on Thursday which it said were used by militant leader Government Tompolo to train new recruits.

Tompolo was the main target of the military offensive launched in Delta state last month.

Insecurity in the region, the heartland of Africa's biggest oil and gas industry, has slashed Nigerian oil output and forced firms to remove non-essential staff from the region.

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) said on Friday it was investigating reports that three of its Nigerian staff had been kidnapped in separate incidents in the Niger Delta. [nL51045039]

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the area's main militant group, has declared an "all-out war" against the military and bombed a Chevron (CVX.N) pipeline last week that has cut output by 100,000 barrels per day.

Police on Thursday arrested three former leaders of the ethnic rights group the Ijaw Youth Council in Bayelsa's state capital Yenagoa.

MEND said they were being charged with murder, but a police spokesman would only confirm their arrests. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ ) (Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

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