Nigerian militants say clash with army in delta

PORT HARCOURT Fri Jan 30, 2009 2:29pm GMT

PORT HARCOURT Jan 30 (Reuters) - A militant faction in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta said on Friday its fighters had clashed with the military after a raid on one of its camps in the first such fighting since the start of the year.

The Niger Delta Vigilante, which has links to the main militant group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said one of its camps had been attacked by soldiers in gunboats.

"The battle lasted for almost one hour 30 minutes and we were able to sink one of the double-engined boats with all the occupants," said the faction's spokesman, who uses the pseudonym Tamunokuro Ebitari.

There was no independent confirmation of fighting. A military spokesman said he was making checks.

MEND, whose three-year campaign of sabotage against the oil industry has cut Nigeria's output by around a fifth, declared a unilateral ceasefire last September but has repeatedly warned that it will resume attacks if provoked by the military.

The main group has been holding two British oil workers hostage for more than four months partly in an effort to dissuade the security forces from attacking. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (Reporting by Austin Ekeinde; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Louise Ireland)