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Foreign Oil Hostages Released in Nigeria

  • Nico Colombant

Militants in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region have released four foreign hostages after holding them captive for more than two weeks.

In an e-mail, the militants said they had released the four men for humanitarian reasons, handing them over to officials in Bayelsa state, but that their struggle to fight against what they view as the government's and the oil companies' theft of their oil riches would continue.

Their initial demands for the release of a jailed militant and an impeached governor, as well as over $1 billion in compensation for environmental damage were not met.

Reports that the militants did receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom money could not be verified.

Foreign diplomats did confirm the release of the four hostages, one American, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran. Officials in Bayelsa state said they all appeared to be in good health.

President Olusegun Obasanjo prepared a ceremony for the four in the capital Abuja. Foreign diplomats said the freed men would then all go to London to get medical treatment before flying back to their homes.

The four were kidnapped January 11 on a supply vessel amid a six-week series of attacks on oil platforms and pipelines that has cut Nigeria's oil production by 10 percent and pushed world oil prices higher.

The release comes after a military crackdown in the region. Civil rights activist Ibuchukwu Ezike says the underlying problems remain.

"Unlike in most countries in the world, where the people own their land and their resources, the case is different in Nigeria," said Ezike. "All the lands of Nigeria are owned by the federal government and the contents of the land are also owned by the federal government. And communities are not provided with the social amenities and jobs that will keep the restiveness of the youth."

The e-mail by the group of captors calling themselves the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said the release did not signify a cease-fire.

Many civil society leaders in the Niger Delta agree with the messages of the militants, but say they are using these messages as a cover for criminal activity and extortion through violence.

On Sunday, police said about 20 armed men stormed a South Korean oil services company in the Delta and stole more than $300,000. Last week, nine people were reported killed in an attack on the offices of an Italian company.

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