Hundreds of villagers from the Ugborodo community stormed the Escravos terminal near the oil city of Warri early on Friday and broke into the compound to protest against the lack of development in their village and to demand contracts and jobs.

"It was a peaceful protest, but instead of talking to us they sent the military to shoot us. About six of our people have been shot dead and about 10 critically wounded," Austin Ajurenmisan said from Escravos.

ChevronTexaco said it could not confirm the death toll from the fighting at the 300,000 barrel per day terminal, but said its production and exports from the world's eighth largest exporter were not affected.

"We do not have details from the government about security operations on the tank farm," a company spokesman said.

"As far as our activities are concerned, we continue to produce and there is no impact on exports."

Protest

A witness in the nearby city of Warri said 13 people with gunshot wounds, including one with a bullet in the eye, were in hospital there.

Locals were protesting over the
lack of development

A spokesman for the military task force in the delta declined to comment.

The Ugborodo community leader said about 40 demonstrators were trapped at the facility after security forces dislodged most of the demonstrators and locked the gates.

ChevronTexaco operates the terminal on behalf of a joint venture with state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. The government classifies oil export terminals as assets vital to national economic security and they are protected by soldiers under instructions to shoot invaders.

Local resentment

Feuds between oil companies and villagers are common in the vast wetlands of the Niger Delta, which pumps most of Nigeria's 2.3 million barrels per day of oil.

"It was a peaceful protest. But instead of talking to us they sent the military to shoot us"

Austin Ajurenmisan,
Community leader

Many communities feel robbed of the riches in their tribal lands and often resort to extortion, attacks and hostage-taking to secure basic services such as schools, healthcare and infrastructure which are not supplied by the government.

The area around Warri is even more volatile because two rival ethnic groups compete for the oil wealth, which has led to bloody ethnic clashes in the past.

Ethnic violence in March 2003 forced oil multinationals to evacuate facilities in the western delta around Warri, closing nearly 40% of the nation's output.

Platforms closed

Chevron, Nigeria's third biggest operator, has yet to restart 140,000 bpd closed during that violence.

The company said last week it may take another two to three years to recover because of serious damage to oil wells and pipelines caused by sabotage and looting.

In December, hundreds of unarmed villagers from another village in the eastern delta besieged three oil platforms operated by ChevronTexaco and Royal Dutch Shell in a dispute over jobs and development, forcing the multinationals to shut in about 100,000 bpd for six weeks.

Last year, the threat of all out war by a local war lord in the eastern delta helped push world oil prices above $50 per
barrel for the first time.