Nigeria: Ethnic clashes erupt in southern oil town

LAGOS, 3 February (IRIN) - At least 12 people have been killed and more than 30 houses razed in three days of renewed ethnic violence in Nigeria's southern oil town of Warri, residents said on Monday.
They said the trouble started on Friday when a dispute erupted between factions of the ruling People's Democratic Party, which held primaries to select candidates for the state legislature at elections to be held in April-May 2003. However, the violence degenerated into fighting between the Urhobo and Itshekiri ethnic groups.

"Every night since Friday we've been hearing gunshots and many buildings have been set on fire," Emike Omatshola, a Warri resident, told IRIN. "I have seen at least 12 dead bodies and I'm sure more people have been killed," he added.

Army troops and policemen have been deployed on the streets of the town. On a number of occasions, bands of armed youths engaged them in gunfights. At other times, the youths fled to areas without a strong security presence, residents said.

Warri is a major base for oil transnationals with operations in the west of the Niger Delta, Nigeria's main oil region. Fighting between Urhobos, Itshekiris and Ijaws, the three main groups in Warri, claimed hundreds of lives between 1997 and 1999.

Most of the fights had centred on claims to oil-bearing areas by communities anxious to benefit from rents, amenities and other benefits provided by oil companies. [ENDS]

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