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Another pipeline fire kills 40 in Nigeria

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LAGOS, Nigeria — Another oil pipeline fire has erupted in the Niger Delta, killing 40 people in an area where similar blazes recently have killed hundreds, the govern-ment-owned newspaper said Tuesday.

The Daily Times reported that the fire broke out Sunday as local villagers were scooping up fuel from a burst pipe in the southeastern village of Afrokpe. The report said the fire was burning Monday and firefighters were battling the flames.

Villagers, most of them farmers, had left their fields for the spilling pipeline in the days before the fire, selling the gasoline to motorists for half the going rate, the report said.

Delta State Gov. James Ibori said Monday that the fire was the sixth such incident in the state in two months, and that he was asking the federal government for help.

Pipeline vandalism, known as "scooping," is common in Nigeria despite the risk of a deadly fire or punishment, including being shot on sight by police.

In December 1998, more than 700 people were killed in a pipeline blast in the Niger Delta village of Jesse. Since then, the government has tried to educate villagers about the danger of scavenging pipeline fuel.

But poverty and residents' anger at the government and oil industry for allegedly polluting the environment and financially neglecting the Delta — an area where few villages have roads, electricity or running water despite the region's immense petroleum wealth — have kept the illegal practice alive.

Often the victims are poor villagers, including young children, who scoop the fuel into containers to sell along the roadside.

Officials have blamed organized crime cartels of running pipeline-scavenging businesses, and some have accused police and state oil company officials of also being involved.

Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest oil exporter, accounting for about one-twelfth of oil imported by the United States.