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Nigerians Welcome Release of Hostages, Advocate Dialogue


In the wake of Wednesday's release of six foreign oil workers seized by militants in the Niger River Delta, some Nigerians are urging the federal authorities to quickly begin meaningful talks with the militants to improve security in the area.

Most Nigerians have warmly welcomed the release of six foreign oil workers by militants in the Niger Delta. Three hostages, two Americans and a Briton, described as high-profile captives by their abductors are still being held.

Mediators say substantial progress has been made in negotiations with the militants and they are hopeful the remaining hostages will be freed shortly.

The militants have warned of increased attacks on the oil industry if their demands, which include a greater share of oil revenue, are not met. Nigeria's oil production is currently down by 20 percent.

The country's largest workers union, the Nigeria Labour Congress, says the federal authorities should move quickly to engage the militants in constructive dialogue, leading to the resolution of their grievances.

NLC spokesman Owei Lakemfa says this is the only way to ease the tension and improve security in the area.

"We think the government must realize that there are problems and these problems can be resolved through dialogue," said Lakemfa. "I think this country belongs to us and if it belongs to us, then we must ensure that everybody is carried along. That some people do not feel neglected and angry to the level of carrying arms and taking hostages."

The federal government has shown no interest in engaging the the militants in any form of dialogue, describing them as terrorists. The deputy president of the Nigerian senate, Ibrahim Mantu, says it is important that the militants change their tactics in their quest to draw attention to their plight.

"I believe that yes, if you have a good case, discuss your problem with the appropriate authority and I have no doubt people will listen to you, particularly in a democratic dispensation where the people have so many representatives, at the local, at the state level and national level," said Mantu. "In fact, the combined efforts of these people will guarantee a positive response from the federal government and any other arm of government to the problems of the people. So, violence is not the answer."

Armed militancy in the oil-rich delta increased with the return to civil democracy in 1999. Most of the groups are believed to have been created by politicians, but many of the groups have grown into powerful armed gangs with sophisticated weapons that pose a threat to Nigeria's oil industry.

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