LAGOS, Nigeria – Insurgents in Nigeria's southern Niger Delta will begin an armed struggle to wrest control of the region's oil riches from the federal government starting Oct. 1, a rebel spokesman said Tuesday.
Moujahid Dokubo-Asari, leader of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (search), also said all oil company employees would be legitimate targets and advised foreign embassies to pull their nationals out of the oil region.
"We will target government infrastructure and oil company personnel," Dokubo-Asari told The Associated Press. "Oil facilities will not be targeted since it will endanger the environment."
Dokubo-Asari said "a full-scale armed struggle" will begin on Oct. 1, the 44th anniversary of Nigeria's independence from Britain.
Oil multinationals operating in Nigeria, especially local subsidiaries Royal Dutch/Shell (search) and Italy's Agip (search), have provided government troops helicopters and "topographical maps" that aided the bombardment of rebel camps hidden among creeks and mangrove swamps of the delta, the rebel leader said.
A Shell spokesman in Lagos declined to comment on the allegations, saying an official response will be issued later.
Shell, which accounts for roughly half of Nigeria's daily exports of 2.5 million barrels, said its production and exports have so far not been affected by the oil region violence.
Nigeria's military launched its latest offensive against Dokubo-Asari's fighters early this month in response to deadly raids by his militia into Nigeria's main oil industry center, Port Harcourt (search), in August.
President Olusegun Obasanjo's government accuses Dokubo-Asari's group and other armed groups in the region of gangsterism, including illegally tapping and selling crude oil from pipelines to buy arms and fund their criminal activities.
Dokubo-Asari claims to be fighting for self-determination for more than 8 million Ijaws, the dominant tribe in the southern delta region that accounts for nearly all of Nigeria's daily oil exports.
The insurgents will only lay down their arms if the government convened a "sovereign national conference" to discuss self determination and greater control of oil wealth by the inhabitants of the oil region, he said.