Flesh-eating Buruli disease spreads across West Africa

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COTONOU, 18 September 2008 (IRIN) – A tropical flesh-eating disease, Buruli ulcer, is spreading across West Africa and has infected at least 40,000 people leaving them with bloody infected wounds and swollen skin ulcers, which at their worst, require surgery or amputation, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Fighters from MEND using high explosives have destroyed a major pipeline belonging to Shell Development Company at the Elem-Kalabari Cawthorne Channel axis in Rivers state,” the group said in an email to the media.

The group said the attack took place around 6:30 pm (1730 GMT). It gave few other details except to say that its men bumped into an army patrol that begged for mercy.

There was no immediate comment from Shell.

The attack is the fifth on a Shell facility in Rivers State, the centre of Nigeria’s oil industry, in the space of a week. Chevron has also reported “shooting incidents” close to two of its installations, also in Rivers.

MEND on Sunday declared “war” on the oil industry.

On Wednesday, in a rare daylight attack, MEND said it had blown up a major pipeline, which it said it believed belongs to Shell and to Agip of Italy.

Earlier the same day it attacked a Shell flow station at Orubiri along with another militant group.

And earlier in the week MEND attacked Shell’s Alakiri flow station and another pipeline.

The group has threatened to extend its raids to the other major oil states, Bayelsa and Delta and also to attack the country’s two big deep offshore fields, Shell’s Bonga and Chevron’s Agbami.

In June MEND staged an attack on Bonga, a field which had until then been thought safely out of the reach of militant attacks.

Since it first emerged in early 2006 MEND, which says it is fighting for a larger share of southern Nigeria’s oil revenue to go to local people, has cut Nigeria’s oil production by more than one quarter.

MEND also said early Friday its fighters had just before midnight handed over two South African hostages that it claimed to have rescued from pirates, to state secret services agents. The security service officers were in turn expected to onpass them to representatives of the South African embassy in Nigeria.

“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) can categorically confirm that the two South African hostages rescued by MEND from sea pirates have been released unharmed today, September 18, 2008,” it said in an email statement.

“The duo were handed over to government secret service officials at 2300 hrs (2200 GMT) who will in turn hand them over to representatives of the South African High Commission in Port Harcourt,” the capital of southern Rivers state.

MEND said the two were among 27 rescued hostages, which also included 22 Nigerians, two British and one believed to be Ukrainian.

The 27 workers were taken hostage by pirates who hijacked their vessel last week.

MEND said it chose to release the South Africans from the group, following an appeal from Azuka Okah, wife of Henry Okah, one of MEND’s leaders detained in secret in the centre of Nigeria on charges of treason and gun-running.

She argued that she and her children consider South Africa their home since her husband’s detention in September 2007, adding that they have been well-received there.

MEND, which is by far the best equipped of the militants in the area, declared an all-out war on the oil industry at the weekend in response to what it said was an unprovoked attack by the army on one of its positions.

On Saturday it had initially said it was planning to hold all 27 rescued hostages as leverage for Okah’s release.

There was no immediate confirmation from either the South African High Commission or the military of the release of the hostages.

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