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Nigeria militants: 29 military personnel killed
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    LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria’s main militant group claimed Saturday that it killed at least 29 military personnel in three separate attacks across the restive southern oil region.
    The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said in an e-mail statement that the near-simultaneous battles came in the three main oil producing states of southern Nigeria, leaving 29 dead and others unaccounted for after they jumped from their military boats.
    The group reported that six of its own fighters were also killed in the clashes, which they say they launched as reprisals for attacks they allege the military carried out on civilians.
    Military officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
    If confirmed, the death toll would be the highest ever in clashes between militants and the military unit charged with calming the southern area, from which crude is pumped in the country that is Africa’s biggest oil producer.
    Militants have stepped up attacks in nearly three years of violence aimed at forcing the federal government to send more oil industry funds to the Niger Delta. The region remains deeply impoverished despite five decades of lucrative production.
    All-out attacks on the military are rare, since the militants do not seek to separate from Nigeria.
    Militants tend to focus their efforts instead on destroying oil pipelines and other infrastructure, trying to cut oil exports and send global crude prices higher. That increases pressure on the government.
    The militants said the attacks in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta states came shortly after sunset and involved fighters wielding machine guns, rocket propelled grades and anti-tank missiles they used on Nigerian military personnel at close range.
    They said that the raids came in response for civilian deaths caused by the military shooting at boats plying the myriad creeks and rivers in the region. The military has denied any civilians died in recent weeks.