LAGOS — Nigeria's most prominent militant group MEND on Monday threatened to attack facilities of the Italian energy firm Eni in the country, accusing it of stealing oil and of backing NATO-led air raids on Libya.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in an emailed statement said Eni engaged in "theft" in Nigeria's southern oil-rich region and assisted a special Nigerian military unit deployed there.
"The Eni group has actively participated in the theft of oil in the Niger delta for decades, assisting the Nigerian military in its scorched earth and genocidal actions against the justice-seeking citizens of the Niger delta," it noted.
MEND claims to be fighting for an fairer share of the oil wealth for area residents.
A spokesman for the military special force in the delta, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Antigha, said the army "is studying that press release purportedly made by MEND with a view to determining its authenticity."
MEND also highlighted "with outrage the involvement of the ENI group of Italy in the attacks on the innocent citizens of Libya by Western nations intent on plundering the mineral resources of that nation."
"In solidarity with the oppressed people of Libya we vow this day to henceforth pursue the complete destruction of all investment owned by ENI group in Nigeria and urge all around Africa to do likewise," it said.
Nine of NATO's 28 members states are taking part in air strikes in Libya, with France and Britain leading the offensive, but it was not clear why the militants picked on the Italian energy firm.
MEND questioned why Western nations ignored the bombing of communities in the Niger delta allegedly by the Nigerian military.
Nigerian soldiers recently raided some villages in the delta in search of a renegade militant leader.
The deeply impoverished Niger Delta region has been hit by scores of attacks and kidnappings in recent years by criminal gangs and militant groups.
An amnesty deal in 2009 was credited with greatly reducing unrest in the region, but many warned that underlying problems such as poverty and unemployment remained and would eventually lead to new attacks.
Although many of its commanders have laid down arms, MEND has said it is not part of the amnesty. It claimed responsibility for last year's independence day bombings which killed 12 people in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
The group said it "has no respect for Jonathan", referring to Goodluck Jonathan, the first Nigerian president from that region, or other African leaders "who gladly serve as stooges to Western governments."
Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of Nigeria's foreign exchange earnings and some 80 percent of government revenue.
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