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Niger Delta Earns Reputation as One of World's Most Dangerous Places


The oil-rich Niger Delta in southern Nigeria has become one of the world's most dangerous places, both for civilians and foreigners. VOA's Nico Colombant went to the scene of a recent kidnapping and to the memorial service of a former gang leader, for this report from one of the main cities in the lawless region, Port Harcourt.

A guard at an emptied out residential compound, previously occupied by Indian petrochemical workers, walks through debris left behind by dozens of heavily armed militants who came by with dynamite in the early hours Saturday.

He says two Indian workers were taken hostage. The other Indians left, but their belongings remain.

There is no military presence in or around the recently attacked compound. The guard, who recently moved here to get a security job, says he is afraid.

"Since I came to Port Harcourt, I have not seen such things like this. So this is my first time witnessing such a thing like this. I am from Cross Rivers State, so I just came to Port Harcourt to find something to do, so unfortunately I was involved in this," the guard said.

He says danger seems to follow oil. Militants, who say they are fighting to get a share of oil revenue and justice for the people of the Niger Delta, get up to $1 million for releasing a group of hostages.

The guard, who preferred to remain unnamed for fear of reprisal, says he believes they carry out attacks just for money.

"They do not fight for justice. If it were for justice, they will not destroy these things. I think they are fighting for money," he added. "They make it. They demand some money and they give it to them before they release [the hostages]."

Officials at facilities where the Indians worked for the Indonesian company Indorama said more information would not be available before Monday.

Other witnesses said the militants shot and killed a Nigerian driver while they escaped, not wanting him to indicate where they were going, and seriously injured a woman, by shooting her in the head, as she walked home from a nearby church from a night vigil.

One resident, who also preferred to remain unnamed, said it is not just the foreigners who are afraid.

"Their mode of shooting was too rough. People there are very scared. Many are even afraid to live in the same zone just because of the threat. Nobody knows what will be the next line of action because of fear and they want to go away," said the resident.

At a church , people sang to honor the life of Casi Boate, who had recently left gangs and militant groups, trying to advocate non-violence.

He was killed by a rival gang member, in retaliation for a recent murder of another gang leader, while visiting his home in nearby Bayelsa state, also in the Niger Delta.

His grieving sister Rosemary says many young men, in school and out of school, are encouraged to join what are locally known as cults, violent groups that deal in crime and call for justice in the impoverished and lawless oil-producing area.

"The ones on the streets are chasing the ones on the campus. Now the ones on the campus are chasing the ones outside," she said. "It is like a kind of circle revolving around itself. I think it is kind of dangerous, really."

Outgoing Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to disarm the main groups behind violence in 2004, but those efforts failed.

Militants were paid money for handing in their weapons, sometimes more than $200 each. Some say they were able to buy many more weapons with the money they received.

New powerful state governors and a new president, the ruling party's Mussa Yar'Adua, formerly a northern governor, are to be sworn into office on May 29.

International observers, Nigerian human rights activists, opposition leaders and militant leaders in the southern oil region have denounced the elections as falling far short of democratic expectations, following many instances of fraud, violence, and mismanagement surrounding the voting.

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