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Oil Hostages Released in Nigeria


Nigerian militants have released three Western hostages held in the troubled Niger Delta for more than a month. The government is now under pressure to act promptly, to avert another abduction.

Monday, State-owned radio reported the release of the hostages, including two Americans and a Briton, after five weeks in captivity.

Radio Nigeria says the three men were handed over to Governor James Ibori of Nigeria's southern Delta State by an ethnic Ijaw leader, Edwin Clark.

Officials say the men were in good health and had been handed over to Shell, their employer.

The three hostages were abducted along with six others on February 18.

The militants had demanded a greater share of oil revenues, the release of two jailed leaders from the region and compensation for oil pollution, as conditions for releasing the hostages. The government says no ransom was paid.

The involvement of leading ethnic Ijaw leaders in the negotiations eventually led to the release of the three men.

Mike Ekamon, a Niger Delta activist and head of the Supreme Niger Delta Youth Council non-governmental group, pays tribute to efforts of the region's leaders.

"The governments themselves must realize that the people are wallowing in abject poverty while even the expatriates come to extort and equip where they come from," he said. "So, we are happy our leaders, our traditional rulers, our governors, our national assembly members, our politicians have made it possible for peace to reign in the Niger Delta."

The ongoing violence in the delta has also affected electric power generation in Nigeria, leading to prolonged outages in several parts of the country.

A quarter of Nigeria's 2.4-million barrels per day output is shut down because of attacks by militants on oil infrastructure.

Ekamon says the government has to move quickly to address the grievances toward oil communities or else another hostage taking is inevitable.

"It might not be the last. In as much as we are not encouraging it to happen again, were saying that fast steps should be taken to listen to the people of Niger Delta, especially the youths. Create youth empowerment programs. Listen to the people. We can no more farm again. We can no more fish again. Let the government do things… NDDC [Niger Delta Development Corporation] is not enough. Do something that will quiten the people," he added.

The release of the three hostages has raised hopes for an end to recent violence in the delta.

But analysts say much will depend on the government's response. The United States and Britain had promised high-level intervention to address the long-standing grievances of Nigeria's oil producing communities, if they avoid further hostage taking.

Some 20 million people live in poverty, alongside the multi-billion dollar oil industry in Nigeria.

Shell says it will not resume normal oil production in Nigeria until it is safe to do so.

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