January 30, 2016 / 8:24 PM / in 2 years

Suspected militants hit crude pipeline in Nigeria's Bayelsa state

YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) - A crude oil pipeline in Nigeria's southern state of Bayelsa operated by the local subsidiary of Italy's Eni was attacked on Thursday night, a state lawmaker told reporters on Saturday.

This is the second major attack on the OPEC member's installations since an arrest warrant was issued this month for former militant leader Government Ekpemupolo, known as Tompolo.

The hits follow years of relative calm in the country's oil-producing region after a 2009 amnesty halted a spate of attacks on oil installations and kidnappings of expatriate workers.

"I want to condemn the latest attack on the Agip pipeline at Kpongbokiri. This is a clear sabotage by economic saboteurs," Israel Sunny-Goli, a member of the Bayelsa state assembly, said after preliminary investigations had been concluded.

He said attackers hit a crude pipeline near Brass, a coastal city and site of a crude export terminal. Eni operates in Nigeria through its subsidiary Nigerian Agip Oil Company.

A spokesman for Nigeria's state oil company said he could not yet say whether exports would be affected.

President Muhammadu Buhari won last year's election on his vow to crush endemic corruption in the west African nation. Former government and military officials have already been charged, while Tompolo is the first high profile former militant which the security services have gone after.

Following the amnesty, many former leaders enriched themselves through lucrative pipeline protection contracts under previous president Goodluck Jonathan but oil theft reached an industrial scale.

Buhari can ill afford to start a conflict in the south with the military already stretched in the northeast fighting the Islamist jihadi group Boko Haram.

The oil rich delta has been a source of tension since the presidency shifted to a northern Muslim.

Ahead of the elections the militants threatened to return to the creeks should Jonathan lose. They also threatened action if the amnesty program that provides education and vocational training to about 30,000 former militants expired in December as Buhari suggested in his inaugural speech. It was extended this month for at least another year.

Last week, Nigeria's state oil company was forced to shut down its Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries following an attack on pipelines bringing crude to the plants.

Reporting By Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa; Writing by Julia Payne; Editing by Greg Mahlich

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