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Tensions Escalate As Armed Group Attacks Niger’s PetroChina-Funded Pipeline, Threatens More Attacks

The Patriotic Liberation Front has claimed responsibility for disabling part of a PetroChina-funded pipeline in Niger Republic.

An Armed Group Opposed to Niger’s ruling junta disabled a section of the country’s PetroChina-funded crude oil pipeline in an attack on Sunday night, it said in a statement.

The pipeline has a capacity of 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) and extends for nearly 2,000 km (1,243-mile) linking Niger’s Agadem oil field to Benin’s coast, Reuters said.

Exports are meant to be loaded under a $400 million deal with oil giant China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC).

The Patriotic Liberation Front (FPL) said its attack on the pipeline was aimed at pushing Niger’s Chinese partners to cancel the export deal. The FPL formed after the West African country’s July 2023 coup.

“Failing this, all oil assets will be paralysed in the next few actions,” the FPL said, without providing further detail.

Niger’s government, PetroChina, CNPC, and pipeline operator West Africa Oil Pipeline (WEPCO) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The claimed attack deepens a crisis surrounding the pipeline, whose flows Niger said last Thursday it had shut off due to a border dispute with Benin.

That came a day after unidentified assailants attacked soldiers guarding the pipeline in south-eastern Dosso region. Six soldiers were killed, security sources told Reuters.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for that attack, which was the first on security forces protecting the pipeline. Jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State operate in the area.

Earlier, Niger had shut off oil exports to China via its pipeline to Benin’s coast, Oil Minister Mahamane Moustapha Barke Bako said, deepening a standoff between the West African neighbours.

At the Agadem oilfield in eastern Niger, the minister oversaw the padlocking of a section of the 2,000-km (1,243-mile) pipeline through which exports to China were meant to flow under a memorandum of understanding with state-owned oil giant China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) worth $400 million.

Cross-border relations have been strained since Benin blocked crude exports via its port from landlocked Niger in May and demanded the junta reopen its border to Benin’s goods and normalise relations.

Earlier in June, authorities in Benin detained five Niger nationals for allegedly entering Benin’s Seme-Kpodji pipeline terminal under false pretences – charges Niger has rejected, insisting the group was there to supervise the loading of crude in line with an agreement with Benin.

“We can’t just sit back while our oil is stolen by other people, because we’re not there where it’s loaded,” the minister told workers, explaining the decision to halt flows, according to a broadcast on state television.

The tensions go back to a July 2023 coup in Niger, which led regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to impose strict sanctions for more than six months.

Trade flows in the region were expected to normalise after the bloc lifted sanctions, but Niger has kept its borders closed to goods from Benin.

Emmanuel Addeh

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