The Nigerian military said it had countered an offensive by
the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in the
restive Niger Delta province Saturday.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that the militant group attacked troops deployed to provide security for oil installations and expatriate workers.
"The militants fled when they realized that they had provoked a superior force," he said.
Musa said that the troops recorded no casualties, but he was confident that the militants must have suffered a lot in the exchange of gunfire.
MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo said that the group suffered about three casualties in the exchange of fire and said that militants had damaged a Nigerian military helicopter.
"We suspect that one of them may have been damaged. The helicopters were repelled and have not returned," he said.
Gbomo said that the troops had attacked innocent civilians, prompting MEND to act.
Militant groups in the Niger Delta, which often attack oil installations and kidnap expatriate workers, say they are fighting for a greater share of profits from oil exploitation for the poor of the region.
The government says they are merely criminal gangs intent on stealing oil and extorting money.
The unrest has cut oil production by around a fifth since early 2006, helping to push up global oil prices and allowing Angola to surpass Nigeria as Africa's biggest oil exporter.
President Umaru Yar'Adua on Wednesday announced the creation of a ministry to develop the region, which despite the oil money remains mired in poverty, dpa reported.