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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
30 January 2006

NIGERIA: Militants free foreign oil workers but vow more attacks

PORT HARCOURT, 30 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - Four foreign oil workers were released on Monday after being held hostage for 19 days by ethnic Ijaw militants in Nigeria’s turbulent Niger Delta.

But the militants, who are fighting to take control of the region’s oil wealth, said the release was a purely humanitarian gesture and warned oil firms that their struggle to radically cut Nigeria’s oil exports would continue.

The four foreigners were released unharmed, Stephen Dick, executive vice president of Royal Dutch Shell contractor Tidewater Inc., a US oil services company, said in a press statement.

US national Patrick Landry, Honduran Harry Ebanks and Bulgarian Milko Nichev of Tidewater and Briton Nigel Watson Clark, employed by Ecodrill, were released in the early hours of Monday.

“All the workers will undergo medical examination before repatriation to their families,” Dick said.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a newcomer on the scene which has also claimed responsibility for a string of oil installation attacks that have killed more than 12 people in the past two weeks, said in an e-mail statement to IRIN they freed the hostages “purely on humanitarian grounds.”

But, the group said, “This release does not signify a ceasefire or softening of our position to destroy the oil export capability of the Nigerian government.” Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer.

Officials in Nigeria’s Bayelsa State, where the attacks occurred, said the hostages were released to local government representatives at an undisclosed location in the delta swamps. The men, accompanied by state Governor Goodluck Jonathan, were later flown to the capital, Abuja, where President Olusegun Obasanjo planned to accompany the former hostages to their diplomatic missions.

Obasanjo has not yielded to MEND’s demands for the release of leading militia leader Moujahid Dokubo-Asari, who is currently detained on treason charges, and other imprisoned ethnic Ijaw leaders in exchange for the hostages.

The militant group has said it will fight to give its people control over the oil wealth, now in the hands of the central government and the oil companies.

“We will shortly carry out greatly significant attacks aimed at ensuring our February target of a 30-percent reduction in Nigeria’s export capacity,” the group said in the statement, warning all expatriates working in Nigeria’s oil industry to leave.

Industry officials and human rights activists said recently that the Niger Delta region is seeing a new level of violence on the part of militant groups, which one rights activist said had become “guerrilla warfare.”

Tensions have been particularly high in the delta since the Nigerian government last September arrested Dokubo-Asari 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.

[ENDS]

 

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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