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Nigerian Militants Threaten to Take More Hostages, New Attack

23 January 2006

Nigerian militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta are threatening to take more foreign hostages, but another attack on an oil platform was stopped.

Officials from Nigeria's Bayelsa state and from the Italian-based company AGIP said security forces fired in the air to push back rampaging youths approaching an oil platform.

Oil companies have been on heightened security alert and more Nigerian troops have been sent to the area since a new string of attacks began against oil companies several weeks ago.

The sometimes deadly violence has cut Nigeria's oil output by an estimated 10 percent and contributed to higher oil prices on world markets.

Some of the Niger Delta militants kidnapped four foreigners on January 11, the same day a major oil pipeline was blown up.

In the latest statement attributed to the kidnappers and sent to foreign news organizations, the militants said they had no plans to release their hostages and that they intend to take more.

They also disputed reports that the government was making progress in negotiations and described anyone talking to the government on their behalf as bounty hunters.

A journalist covering the events, Aminu Bello Sahabi, says the government has not been able to locate the militants.

"The militants, their whereabouts are not yet known," he says. "Even the security agents in the Niger Delta said that they cannot locate the militants. Previously, they were in Bayelsa [state], but now it is thought that they [have left] Bayelsa to one other state within the Niger Delta."

Sahabi says it is unfortunate because he says the government has established an impressive negotiating team.

"If they would be able to see the militants to discuss with them it would be helpful because the government selected some people, influential people comprising governance, and some other influential people in the Niger Delta, to look after the problems and negotiate with the militants," says Sahabi. "It would be helpful, but the most dangerous area of the negotiations is that if they cannot get contact with the militants."

The militants are asking for the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders, a group that has often felt excluded from the benefits of their oil-rich land. They are also asking for compensation money from oil companies for environmental damage.

The U.S Consulate General in Lagos says it is working closely with Nigerian authorities as well as with oil company officials, to secure the release of one of the hostages, American Patrick Landry. It continues to call for the immediate release of all individuals being unlawfully held.

The other hostages have been identified as being from Britain, Bulgaria, and Honduras, all of them oil workers.

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