Militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta said they launched a boat-born assault on an oil pipeline Saturday, breaking a tenuous cease-fire with the government to raise concerns about the nation's ailing and absent president.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said a team of fighters attacked a major pipeline west of Port Harcourt that belonged to either Chevron Corp. or Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
A statement from MEND, the main militant group operating in the Delta, said it would consider its Oct. 25 unconditional cease-fire with the Nigerian government void for the next 30 days.
A Royal Dutch Shell spokeswoman said the company had no reports of an attack on its facilities. A spokesman for Chevron did not return a call for comment.
The claimed attack comes after President Umaru Yar'Adua held formal peace talks with the group and many militants put down their arms as part of a government amnesty.
While the militants have broken cease-fires in the past, the possible attack highlights the Nigerian government's struggle with Yar'Adua's weekslong absence as he recovers from a reportedly serious heart condition.
It also raises new questions over whether a new wave of attacks will affect oil production in Nigeria, which relies heavily on the proceeds to run West Africa's most populous nation.
The group said it attacked the oil pipeline in part due to government officials slowing the pace of peace talks as Yar'Adua's absence has grown into weeks.
"A situation where the future of the Niger Delta is tied to the health and well-being of one man is unacceptable," the statement read. "The government ... has been disseminating propaganda aimed at foreign investors claiming that the situation in the Niger Delta is under control. This assertion is far from the truth."
Militants have attacked oil installations, kidnapped petroleum company employees and fought government troops since January 2006. They demand that the federal government send more oil-industry funds to Nigeria's southern region, which remains poor despite five decades of oil production.
The violence has cut Nigeria's oil production by about a million barrels a day, allowing Angola to surge ahead as Africa's top oil producer.
Major attacks in the Delta also have made global oil prices jump by more than a dollar a barrel in the past.
Yar'Adua, long troubled by a kidney ailment and poor health, left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia on Nov. 23. He was admitted into a hospital the next day.
As questions mounted, his physician released a statement saying Yar'Adua suffered from acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart that can cause a fatal complication.
Yar'Adua did not formally appoint a leader in his absence, sparking constitutional confusion and calls for him to resign.
Friday, MEND warned that without Yar'Adua, the group had no "good-faith partner" to negotiate a permanent peace across the communities and creeks in the oil-rich region.
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