Ijaw militants battling soldiers and tribal enemies in Nigeria's oil-rich delta region called for a cease-fire today after state officials agreed to support their political demands.
Bello Oboko, president of the militant Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities, whose fighters have spent two weeks battling government troops and rival Itsekiris, said the governor of Delta State, James Ibori, agreed Tuesday to help renegotiate electoral boundaries the Ijaws say favor their enemies.
At least 100 people, including 10 soldiers, have been killed in the fighting. Many witnesses say the toll is far higher. Twenty-five villages -- 15 Itsekiri and 10 Ijaw -- have been heavily damaged or destroyed since fighting began March 12.
Two weeks of violence in the region has forced multinational oil companies to evacuate employees and cut exports by more than 800,000 barrels a day -- or 40 percent of the country's normal daily output.
ChevronTexaco closed nearly all of its operations while Shell and TotalFinaElf severely curtailed production. Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest exporter and the fifth-largest source of U.S. oil imports.
Villagers fleeing by the thousands fear a repeat of army massacres in 2001 and 1999 that killed hundreds. In both cases, Nigerian soldiers were retaliating for killings of members of the security forces.
Witnesses accuse the military of carrying out near-daily raids, with soldiers in boats firing light and heavy weapons on their villages in the marshes of the delta.
An army spokesman denied Tuesday the military was targeting civilians and blamed tribal fighting.