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Nigerian Militants Announce Suspension of Attacks on Foreign Oil Workers


One of the main militant groups operating in the Niger Delta says it will suspend hostilities for one month to allow the government of new President Umaru Yar'Adua to create a plan for peace in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. The group has also released six foreign hostages. But as Sarah Simpson reports from Lagos four more foreign oil workers have been kidnapped in the oil-rich region.

One of the main militant groups operating in the Niger Delta , the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, on Saturday announced a one-month suspension of attacks on oil installations. The MEND spokesman, who goes by the name Jomo Gbomo, told VOA by email, his only means of communication with reporters, that he hopes the Nigerian government will use the reprieve to consider "positive and realistic measures towards a just peace in the Delta."

He said attacks will resume, after one month, with "greater purpose."

More than 100 foreigners have been kidnapped in the region this year. Some of the abductions are the work of criminal gangs seeking ransom, while others have been carried out by militant groups, like MEND, demanding that local villages get more of the region's oil wealth. The victims are usually released unharmed following payment of a ransom.

Nigerian authorities said Saturday that men dressed in what looked like police uniforms entered a compound used by oil-services company Schlumberger in the oil city of Port Harcourt late Friday. They say the assailants seized four foreign nationals under cover of darkness, without firing a shot.

Rivers State Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu pointed out that the dark uniforms of the Nigerian police are easy to copy, especially at night.

Police officials say the nationalities of the abductees could not be immediately confirmed, though they say a British, Dutch and Pakistani national are believed to be among the group.

This was the second hostage-taking incident in a day. Eight Asian oil workers were abducted Friday in Port Harcourt.

Thousands of oil workers have already fled the Delta because of security fears. The rising tide of militancy and criminal gang activity has forced a 25 percent cut in Nigerian oil production.

Separately on Saturday, MEND announced the release of six foreign hostages - four Italians, one U.S. citizen and a Croatian. The men had been held for just over month.

Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and the third largest supplier to the United States. All of Nigeria's crude is pumped from the troubled Delta.

Newly elected President Umaru Yar'Adua, sworn into office Tuesday, has promised to tackle unrest in the Delta. He called a Niger Delta Summit to open on Monday but already that has been delayed.

President Yar'Adua has also promised to upgrade Nigeria's police force, which has been plagued by charges of corruption and incompetence.

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