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Nigerian Militants Free 24 Filipino Hostages

Twenty-four Filipino oil workers that were being held by gunmen in Nigeria have been released. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that Nigerian officials say no ransom was paid.

A spokesman for the Delta state government confirmed the release of the hostages.

Sheddy Ozoene told VOA that the former hostages have been handed over to government officials and are expected in Warri, the main city in the western delta.

"We have it on good authority that that they have already been released. We will receive them when they come in to Warri, which we expect will be in the next one hour or two. They are still in the sea, they are still sailing toward Warri," said Ozoene. "The journey is about four hours from where they were held, to Warri."

The Nigerian government has come under a lot of pressure to secure the release of the Filipinos, with Manila imposing a travel ban to Nigeria.

Ransom is often paid for the release of hostages in the Niger Delta. The kidnappers say they had released the men following the intervention of local leaders. Ozoene said that no ransom was paid.

"I can assure you that there was no ransom paid. It is about ways of negotiations, pleadings and whatever. I cannot give you more details," said Ozoene.

The region's most organized militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Delta, has denied responsibility for the kidnapping, despite claims by the hostage takers that they belonged to MEND.

The Nigerian government has criticized U.S. television network CNN for airing a report on kidnapping in the delta, describing it as subversive. A CNN spokesman in Atlanta has rejected the allegation.

Another seven hostages, including two Filipinos, are still being held in the restive delta.