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Nigerian Gunmen Attack Oil Firm Offices
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At least eight policemen and a civilian were killed on Tuesday as gunmen attacked the offices of the Italian oil company Agip in southern Nigeria, officials said.


The attack on Agip, a unit of Italy's Eni, came after a spate of violence hit Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta region in the last one month, cutting the country's daily oil output of 2.5 million barrels by about 9 percent.


"Nine people were killed, one of them was a civilian, I don't know whether he is Agip oil worker, eight others were policemen," said Rivers state police spokesperson Ireju Barasua.


In a statement, Eni confirmed nine deaths in the attack, saying that no Italian people had been injured.


"At approximately 2:30 PM (1330 GMT) today, a group of armed individuals entered its Port Harcourt (the capital of Rivers state) base in the Niger Delta. The armed gang exchanged fire with the local security forces and made their way to a banking facility which is located on the base," the statement said.


"Subsequently, after a brief occupation of the premises, the gang vacated the bank and left the base at approximately 3:30 PM (1430 GMT)."


Barasua described the incident as a "robbery" and quoted bank workers as saying that four million naira (US$30,769) was stolen.


"When they came through the waterfront ... (they) shot the first policeman at the gate (of the offices), policemen who were on ground duty were alerted that there was enemy," said Barasua.


"So they (policemen) entered into a bullion van and drove into the compound to dislodge them and saw them (gunmen) with army camouflage thinking that they were military ... and were shot dead, " she added.


Eni said it had temporarily evacuated staff and contractors from the area of the base affected by the incident and the situation was currently under control.


Only a day ago, protesters stormed an Agip oil production facility in the neighboring Bayelsa State but were driven off by security forces.


Last month, Nigeria's Niger Delta, where the majority of the country's oil is produced, had witnessed a series of attacks on oil facilities and the kidnapping of four foreign oil workers who currently were still being held hostages.


A previously unknown group, who calls itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, had claimed responsibility for the incidents, which had forced Royal Dutch Shell, the biggest oil investor in Nigeria, to cut about 221,000 barrels of oil per day.


Spokesperson for the Bayelsa State Governor Ekiyor Welson hinted on Tuesday the four workers, an American, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran, who were working for Shell's subcontractors, could be released this week.


Welson told the official News Agency of Nigeria that the negotiations between Ijaw ethic leaders and the abductors had reached "an advanced stage" but government officials and security operatives were not involved.


The four hostages were seized on January 11 from an offshore oil field operated by Royal Dutch Shell, the largest oil investor in Nigeria.


(China Daily January 26, 2006)


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