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Italian Hostage Freed in Niger Delta


An Italian oil worker taken hostage in Nigeria's Niger Delta region last week has been freed.

A Nigerian militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, said Tuesday it ordered the man's unconditional release, in an effort to end a series of kidnappings for profit.

The Saipem oil worker was abducted Thursday in the oil-rich south. It is not clear who was responsible for the kidnapping, which also resulted in the death of a Nigerian soldier.

So far this month, at least 19 foreign oil workers have been abducted in the oil-rich region. Three remain missing, while the others have been released unharmed.

Militant groups have been pressing for local communities to receive a greater share of the region's oil wealth. However, many of the recent kidnappings are believed to have been mainly for ransom money.

Nigeria's government began a crackdown on militants in the delta last week.

The kidnapping of the Italian touched off what witnesses described as a rampage by Nigerian troops who burned more 100 homes in a Port Harcourt neighborhood. Nigeria's military has denied responsibility for the incident.

Hostage-takings and other militant attacks in the delta have caused a 20 percent decline in Nigeria's daily oil production since February.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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