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Militants Release Captives in Niger Delta


Hostage takers in Nigeria's unruly oil-rich Niger Delta have released 13 captives as the new Nigerian administration prepares for peace talks with rebels responsible for the violence. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that the gesture is seen as the easing of tensions in the impoverished region.

Officials say the release of the hostages was facilitated by the new governor of Bayelsa state, Timipre Silva. A spokesman for the state government, Ebimo Amungo, says there is now not a single foreigner held hostage in the state.

"He [governor] has had two meetings with various militant groups and after those deliberations; they agreed that every single hostage held in Bayelsa state will be released to the governor," he said. "So, yesterday, he flew in to some place close to their camp in a chopper and and then he got the hostages from them. While he went for the release of 10 hostages, 13 were released to him as a measure of good faith. All hostages in Bayelsa state have been released."

The hostages were three Americans, five Britons, two Indians, one Filipino, one South African and a Nigerian.

Some two dozen people are still held in captivity across the region. Armed militants pressing for a greater share of the region's oil wealth are responsible for the unrelenting spate of hostage taking. Victims are generally released after a ransom is paid.

Criminal gangs have joined the fray, seizing several foreigners in the past couple of months.

President Umaru Yar'Adua has promised to address grievances in the region, and is preparing the ground for peace talks in the coming weeks.

Nigeria's best known militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has declared a month-long truce to give the new administration time to come up with a plan to resolve the region's long-standing problems.

More than 200 foreigners have been abducted in the vast wetlands region, home to Africa's largest oil industry.

Violence in the region has cut crude output by at least 20 percent in recent months.

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