Nigerian militants warn of "imminent attack"

Nigeria's main armed group Saturday warned oil workers in the southern Niger Delta to leave within 72 hours to avoid an "imminent attack", which the Nigerian military dismissed as an "empty boast".

"This is a final warning from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta MEND to local and foreign workers in the oil services and exploration companies to vacate the region within the next 72 hours due to an imminent attack," MEND said in an email statement.

The militants dubbed the attack "Hurricane Piper Alpha" which they warned "will not discriminate on tribe, nationality, or race when it sweeps across the region."

MEND added: "The warning also applies to greedy individuals from oil communities tempted to carry out repair contracts on pipelines already destroyed."

"A word is enough for the wise!", it warned.

It is unknown if MEND would make good on its threat as several of its past warnings and threats failed to materialise.

A spokesman of the special military unit deployed to the volatile region, Colonel Rabe Abubakar, dismissed the MEND's threat as "nonsense and empty boast."

"It is nonsense and empty boast. We are fully prepared for them. MEND is only seeking relevance. It cannot do anything. We will checkmate them if they try anything unlawful," said Abubakar, spokesman for the Joint Task Force JTF.

"People should disregard the threat in its totality and go about their lawful duties peacefully," he said.

He also urged the oil-rich communities to help the security agencies in their current operations by giving information on the activities and wheareabouts of the militants.

The JTF said Friday that it has found and destroyed MEND's two training camps, restating its determination to "search for criminals and uproot" them in the region.

"We promise once again that our resolve to search for criminals and uproot them ... will persist," JTF said in a statement.

The MEND, which claims to be fighting for impoverished local communities in the region, has been accused of being behind a spate of kidnappings of oil workers, the stealing of crude oil, extortions and vandalism of oil installations and facilties.

It has several times admitted holding in captivity some local and foreign oil workers as well as vandalising the oil facilities.

"Some may wonder if this warning is not the case of 'crying wolf' when an element of surprise will make more sense," MEND also said in the statement.

The armed group on Friday said it rejected a fresh amnesty offer made the previous day by Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua.

"In a nutshell, we are rejecting this offer because as we said earlier, he Yar'Adua has to experiment with Henry Okah for the rest of us to believe," MEND said in a statement to AFP.

The Niger Delta unrest has reduced Nigeria's daily output to 1.76 million barrels compared with 2.6 million barrels in January 2006.

in Bulgaria. AP