Reuters International

By Tife Owolabi

YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Militants attacked a crude oil pipeline operated by Italy's ENI on Saturday, a Nigerian state government said, hours after the Niger Delta Avengers militants claimed another strike in the region.

Nigeria's oil output has fallen to a 20-year low due to attacks on pipelines in the southern swamps, home to much of its hydrocarbon resources, which have compounded the impact of low oil prices on Africa's largest economy.

"Th‎e Bayelsa State Government has condemned in its entirety the attack on ‎a trunk line belonging to Agi‎p (ENI) by (a) new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers," it said in a statement. Bayelsa lies in the Delta region.

The Avengers, who have been targeting oil and gas facilities for the last three months, earlier said on Twitter they had attacked the Nembe pipelines 1, 2 and 3, pumping Royal Dutch Shell's Bonny Light crude, and an Agip facility, at 0215 local time (0115 GMT).

"Something Big is about to happen," the group later tweeted.

A Bayelsa spokesman said later the Nembe pipelines had not been hit. Nengi James, a chairman of the Nembe Oil and Gas Committee that liaises with oil firms, said vandals had targeted the Agip pipeline, which had been attacked before.

Shell and ENI were not immediately available for comment. Shell declared force majeure on Bonny Light loadings after a previous attack on the Nembe creek trunk pipeline, but some exports had been continuing with delays.

ARMY RAID

The army raided the Oporoza community, home to Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, a former militant leader whom security officials have linked to the Avengers, residents said. He has denied any connection to the group.

"Men, women and children, everybody has fled Oporoza because the military invaded our village around 0145 this morning," said Eric Omare, spokesman for the Ijaw Youth Council, which represents one of the largest ethnic groups in the region.

"They are harassing people, arresting some boys and they wounded one of our chiefs," he said. "Traditional places of worship and houses are being destroyed now by the military."

A newsletter close to the group said soldiers had arrived at the community, located in the swamps of the Delta, on seven gunboats.

The army could not be immediately reached for comment but a military source said seven people had been arrested, adding that explosives had been found in their possession.

The military has moved more troops into the Delta. British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond this month cautioned President Muhammadu Buhari that he needed to deal with poverty and anger over pollution from oil spills in the region.

In the first sign that the government might try a less heavy-handed approach, Oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu has said an amnesty programme for former militants, signed in 2009 to end a previous insurgency, needed to improve.

(Reporting by Tife Owolabi, Anamesere Igboeroteonwu, Ulf Laessing and Libby George; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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