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Oil Company Seeks to End Hostage Standoff in Nigeria - 2002-07-16

Officials with the ChevronTexaco oil company in Nigeria have said they hope to soon reach a final deal to end a standoff with protesters who took hundreds of oil workers hostage.

The protesters released 300 oil workers Monday, but were still holding about 800 others at the Escravos oil terminal in Nigeria's southern Delta state.

Talks have continued in recent days and company officials said a deal had been reached. They said they expect to finalize the agreement and release the details of it by the end of the day.

The standoff began on July 8, when women activists from the areas surrounding the terminal invaded the facility, demanding jobs for their children. The activists also called for the company to invest more in infrastructure and development projects in their communities.

The terminal is surrounded by sea and marshes, and is accessible only by boat or aircraft. Protesters took positions at docks and landing strips, blocking all traffic.

Chevron Nigeria's Wole Agunbiade tells VOA the oil company has been working to meet the local residents' demands.

"Chevron has a social responsibility policy, which is basically to leave landmarks in the area where it operates. These landmarks are in the way of education, infrastructure development, and of health," he said. "In the past, we have built hospitals, provided classrooms, laboratories, and such facilities. Also, (we have provided) water projects for the communities. Generally, residents want development for their areas. One of the things they want (in this case) is electricity, and that is one of the things that is being discussed and looked at.

Normally, more than 400,000 barrels of crude are exported through the Escravos terminal each day. Chevron said that despite the siege, the company has been able to meet its delivery commitments.

With threat of losses after the week-long standoff, Chevron Nigeria said it was working to resolve the matter quickly. Security forces have been standing by, but have been ordered not to attack the demonstrators.

The demonstrators said that once the deal was finalized on Tuesday, they would leave the terminal.

Nigeria is one of the world's leading producers of oil, yet 45 percent of its people live in extreme poverty.

Attacks on oil facilities are common in the country, with local residents usually demanding a greater share of the oil wealth, better living conditions, and controls on pollution.