- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen in speedboats shot up a Shell gas plant yesterday and kidnapped five South Korean contractors in the latest violence to hit Africa’s leading crude producer.

Six Nigerian soldiers and one of the assailants were killed in the raid, according to the Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta (MEND), which took responsibility.

Police spokesman Haz Iwendi in the capital, Abuja, could not confirm any deaths, but said one police officer was in critical condition after being shot, and four civilians were injured.

MEND, the main militant group in Nigeria, has been responsible for a wave of attacks and abductions this year in the country’s oil-rich southern delta. The militants contend that impoverished southern Nigerians aren’t getting enough of the oil revenue.

The price of crude oil fell for a second day on global markets after President Bush said the reaction from Iran to an incentives plan intended to curb the country’s nuclear program was “positive.”

The decline accelerated after the Energy Department reported that U.S. gasoline supplies rose for a sixth straight week. Crude oil stockpiles increased as imports surged to a 10-month high.

Crude oil for July delivery fell $1.68, or 2.3 percent, to close at $70.82 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the biggest decline since May 24.

In Nigeria, abductions are common in the volatile delta, with most captives released unharmed.

An official at the Nigerian arm of Royal Dutch Shell PLC said the hostages were working as contractors at the Shell plant near Nigeria’s oil hub of Port Harcourt. Shell said it has shut down the plant, which has capacity of 150 million cubic feet of gas per day.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said gunmen attacked the plant but that he had no details on casualties.

MEND indicated that it wanted to exchange the hostages for the delta region’s most prominent leader, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who has called for autonomy for southerners and was jailed last year on treason charges. His release has been a top militant demand since they took up arms this year.

The group advised the South Korean contractor to “close down its operations with immediate effect, as a second attack will bring only death.”

Mr. Iwendi said the attackers arrived in 10 speedboats just after midnight.

The militants said they launched the assault at a delta outlet called Cawthorne Channel, burning a military houseboat used by security forces to defend the facility and killing some of its occupants.

The group said four Nigerian naval vessels launched a counterattack, sparking a battle that destroyed a military boat that had six soldiers aboard at the time.

“The remaining three boats fled the scene with heavy casualties,” the militants said, adding that they had no precise casualty figure. One militant also was killed, and two others were injured during the skirmish.

Mr. Iwendi could not confirm any deaths, but said one police officer was in critical condition after being shot, and four civilians were injured.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said three of the kidnapped South Koreans worked for Daewoo Engineering and Construction Co., and the other two are from the state-invested Korea Gas Corp. A Nigerian also was kidnapped, the ministry said.

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