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American Film Crew Freed in Nigeria

Nigerian security forces have released four members of a Seattle-based film crew, and their Nigerian associate, arrested in the Niger Delta. The Americans, along with a Nigerian head of a local non-governmental organization, were taken into custody by the military last Saturday for traveling in the region without a military escort. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa has more in this report from Abuja.

U.S. embassy and Nigerian security officials confirmed the release of the four American filmmakers and their Nigerian colleague. A statement on the film company's web site said the Americans and a Nigerian man accompanying them were released to U.S. embassy personnel in the capital, Abuja.

The crew is is scheduled to report to the state security police on Friday for processing.

Lawyers representing the group say no offense was committed by their clients. They argued that the group should charged or released from jail. The Seattle-based company, Sweet Crude, says the U.S. citizens entered Nigeria legally on April 5 to complete a documentary on oil production in the Niger Delta.

Nigerian security forces consider the violence-prone Niger Delta a military zone and restrict access to outsiders.

Omon Julius, a journalist in the delta, agrees with the government position, saying the region is too dangerous for foreigners without military protection.

"If anything happens to these people, it would be very embarrassing not just to the security in Nigeria but to the government itself. So it is good if any group is coming for anything in the creeks, they [military] should be notified because sometimes they can have surprise encounters with militants on the high sea. It is even good for those who are coming, because they [military] will normally provide some cover," said Julius.

A group of 14 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Nigerian President Umaru Yar Adua calling for the immediate release of the filmmakers.

A number of foreigners have been arrested in the Niger Delta recently as the Nigerian military grapples with an insurgency that threatens Africa's largest oil industry.

The bulk of Nigeria's oil is produced in the Niger Delta where armed groups frequently attack oil installations and kidnap foreign oil workers in a campaign for a greater share of the region's oil wealth.