Nigeria’s military said on Saturday it had launched a new offensive against militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta, killing five and arresting 23, according to a Thomas Reuters Foundation news report.
Armed groups have claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on oil and gas pipelines in the southern region, reducing the country’s oil output by 700,000 barrels day.
A special forces battalion moved against militant camps on Friday in an operation “aimed at getting rid of all forms of criminal activities”, army spokesman Sani Usman said in a statement.
“In the course of the operation, five militants that attacked the troops were killed in action, while numerous others were injured and 23 suspects were arrested.”
There was no immediate reaction from militant groups, which operate from hard-to-access creeks in the swampland.
A similar military campaign in May drew sharp criticism from rights groups and residents who said soldiers had laid siege to villages, arrested civilians and raped women in an bid to force them hand over militants. The army denies this.
On Thursday, Oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu met traditional leaders from the Delta to ask them to mediate in talks with militants but they said they wanted the army first to release prisoners taken during a previous sweep, an official has told Reuters.
The army in May arrested a group of school teenagers who community leaders say are not linked to militants.
The Niger Delta Avengers, said in a statement on Sunday they had agreed to a ceasefire to start a dialogue. Officials have refused to confirm this.