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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
23 January 2006

NIGERIA: Fate of hostages uncertain as militants push demands

WARRI, 23 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - Four foreign oil workers taken hostage by armed militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region were in their 12th day in captivity on Monday, with those claiming to be their captors insisting on the release of ethnic Ijaw leaders in government custody.

“Our demands for the release of these two people are not negotiable,” Brutus Ebipadei, a leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), told IRIN by phone at the weekend.

MEND claims responsibility for snatching the four oil workers during an attack on an offshore oil platform on 11 January. The group also says it led a later string of attacks in which at least 14 people have been confirmed dead and 11 are still missing.

The latest unrest in the Niger Delta - which produces most of the country's oil wealth - has cut daily oil exports of 2.5 million barrels by 10 percent.

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government has sought negotiations to secure the release of the hostages – a Bulgarian, a British, a Honduran and a U.S. national – after the four countries' diplomatic missions urged against using military action to secure a release.

Nigerian government officials said last week emissaries had been in touch with the kidnappers and expected them freed soon.

But Ebipadei dismissed the government negotiators, insisting on freedom for detained Niger Delta militia leader Moujahid Dokubo-Asari as well as Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a former regional governor jailed for corruption.

“All these people they’re sending to us are traitors to the Ijaw cause, and we’re not going to deal with them,” Ebipadei told IRIN, adding, “They should be talking to Dokubo-Asari and Alamieyeseigha.”

Ebipadei said the U.S. oil worker was ill and he threatened that if the captive died MEND would kill the remaining hostages.

“They’re drinking the same water we’re drinking and sleeping in the same poor environment in which our people have been living all these years,” he said.

However, an e-mail statement sent by MEND on Sunday - which says its ultimate goal is to win control of the Niger Delta's oil wealth for its impoverished communities - hinted that the hostages might be released soon, saying they were in good health.

“Every hostage taken in the name of the cause is sound in mind and body, they send their warm regards to all and sundry,” the statement said. “We promise that they would soon join their families, hale and hearty enough to tell the true story of a revolution pure in heart and purpose,” it added.

Tensions have been particularly high in the delta since the Nigerian government arrested Dokubo-Asari, the region's most influential militia leader, in September and charged him with treason.

Dokubo-Asari’s Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force took up arms in 2004 to fight for the interests of the region's majority Ijaw ethnic group, alleging that successive governments had cheated their impoverished communities of the oil wealth produced in the region.

Dokubo-Asari suspended armed struggle later that year after world oil prices soared and Obasanjo granted his group amnesty. But the militia leader was arrested late last year after saying in an interview that he would fight for the disintegration of Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country with more than 126 million people.

Alamieyeseigha was governor of Bayelsa State, Nigeria’s only wholly ethnic Ijaw state, until December when he was impeached after he jumped bail in London where he had been arrested on money laundering charges.

The militants allege Alamieyeseigha was singled out by Obasanjo as persecution for campaigning for local control of oil wealth.



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006

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