ABUJA, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Nigeria has agreed to purchase five used Super Puma helicopters from France to assist security forces in the oil-producing Niger Delta and on foreign peacekeeping missions, a government minister said on Wednesday. Nigeria's cabinet approved the defence ministry's request to purchase the five helicopters from France for 68.675 million euros ($102 million).
"The five Super Puma helicopters will be deployed in the areas of air support for Nigerian troops in peacekeeping operations as well as air support for surveillance and reconnaissance in the Niger Delta," Information Minister Dora Akunyili said.
Attacks by militants and criminal gangs in the impoverished Niger Delta have battered Africa's biggest energy industry over the past three years, preventing Nigeria from pumping much above two-thirds of its oil production capacity.
But strikes against oil facilities have subsided after thousands of former gunmen disarmed and accepted President Umaru Yar'Adua's amnesty offer, which expired in early October.
Security experts warn the peace is fragile and that the gunmen may return to violence if they are not quickly retrained and found work.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main militant group behind attacks on the oil industry in recent years, has called for a demilitarisation of the region as the next step but has accused the military of instead rearming.
A military spokesman last week denied the security forces were building up arms or increasing troop numbers, saying they were simply in the region to maintain law and order. ($1=0.6708 euro) (Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Robin Pomeroy) (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (For Interactive factbox on Nigeria please click here ((firstname.lastname@example.org; Abuja Newsroom + 234 9 461 3214, Reuters Messaging: randolph.fabi.thomsonreuters.com))