— By Daniel Balint-Kurti
WARRI, Nigeria (Reuters) - France's TotalFinaElf shut its oil
production facilities in Nigeria's western delta and evacuated
workers on Saturday because of spiraling tribal unrest in the area,
company officials said.
"We decided to shut our production and evacuate the area because
of the deteriorating situation," a company official said in
In the same region, other workers were stranded in a major
ChevronTexaco oil export terminal as angry villagers prevented them
from leaving, industry sources said.
The leaders of the Ijaw ethnic community, which has been clashing
with the army since Thursday, raised their death toll estimates from
14 to 58, all allegedly killed in army raids on villages.
At least 55 others have died, including 10 soldiers, in the
political and ethnic violence, according to community leaders and
A Reuters correspondent saw a helicopter land in the oil city of
Warri, bringing the first group of workers fleeing fighting in
oilfields around the Escravos export terminal.
The group was accompanied by armed soldiers.
Company officials said the helicopters were ferrying frightened
workers from the Opumami tank farm, the French oil firm's most
important facility in the Obodo district where it produces just
7,500 barrels per day of crude.
But there was no immediate official confirmation that militants
had set fire to part of the tank farm.
"We are still getting reports from the area. We are following the
situation," the Lagos-based official said.
A surge in ethnic conflict in the Nigerian delta has forced oil
majors Shell and ChevronTexaco to shut down their operations.
The two companies, which have declared force majeure on some
export commitments, say they are losing a total of 315,000 bpd of
crude, or 16 percent of Nigeria's output.
The Niger Delta, which accounts for most of Nigeria's just over
two million bpd crude output, has been on the boil for years, with
oil multinationals getting caught in a deadly struggle for oil
benefits by local ethnic groups.
The latest flare-up pits ethnic Itsekiri against the Ijaw, who
are spearheading a campaign in the delta for a greater share of
Nigeria's oil wealth. The increasingly violent campaign has added to
nationwide political unrest threatening the country's national
elections next month.
Scores of people, including 10 soldiers quelling unrest, have
died in the past one week alone.
Nationwide, well over 10,000 people have died in ethnic,
religious and political violence since President Olusegun Obasanjo's
election in 1999 ended 15 years of military dictatorship.
The unrest is raising fears over a series of elections, including
a presidential poll on April 19. Disruption to key oil exports could
add economic hardship to the political crisis.
A source at an oil contracting company in Warri town said
villagers were preventing her firm's employees from leaving
ChevronTexaco's Escravos export terminal.
"Our staff are stuck there. They said they have no way of getting
out from there. They said they are just living by God's will," she
said, adding that Ijaw youths were shouting threats at those behind
the terminal's fences.
"They came toward them, shouting that they will kill them because
Chevron has invited the police to fight them," she said.
ChevronTexaco denied requesting any action on the part of the
police or the army. Company spokesman Sola Omole said in Lagos there
was an "uneasy calm" around the terminal.
Port agent GAC said on Friday that the 340,000 bpd Escravos
export terminal was expected to close on Saturday after the army
ordered its evacuation, but Omole said the only evacuation so far
had been of villagers sheltering there from the unrest.
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