Kalashnikov wielding gunmen on Tuesday invaded an oil facility operated by Royal Dutch Shell in the southern Niger Delta, forcing the company to shut down 12,000 barrels per day of oil output.

A company spokesman said about 60 Shell and contractor staff were taken hostage on the Nun River facility after men from a local community boarded the pumping station, firing warning shots into the air.

Security sources said the invasion of the platform appeared to be a dispute between members from the Oporoma community in the southern state of Bayelsa rather than a militant operation.

Disputes between local communities and oil companies are a frequent occurrence in the delta, and are fuelled by poverty and the neglect of local communities by state governments.

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