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Red Cross Presses for Access to Niger Delta Hostages

The Red Cross has stepped up efforts to gain access to four foreign oil workers seized in the Niger Delta.

A senior official of the Nigerian Red Cross confirmed Tuesday that the organization has made some progress in establishing contact with militants holding four oil workers hostage in the Niger Delta.

Some reports suggested that at least one of the hostages may be seriously ill. Mr. Tunde Orebiyi, secretary general of the Red Cross, says the body is keen to have access to the hostages to ascertain their state of health.

"We've been making some efforts for the past four days now to initiate some sort of contact with the people that kidnapped the expatriates," he said. "We are making some positive gains in that direction and my staff gave me feedback as of yesterday. He has already gotten somebody that's trying to link him up with the kidnappers and for us to have access to the people that have been kidnapped, to know their state of health and to have some word with the kidnappers and to assure the world that these people are actually safe."

The fate of the hostages remains uncertain as militants insist on the release of two of their leaders and a greater share of the oil revenue.

The Red Cross had intervened in previous hostage taking incidents in the Delta. Mr. Orebiyi sounds very optimistic that there will be a peaceful end to the current crisis.

"We're told authoritatively that they are well and they are sound and safe, from our contact person and nothing has happened to them and nothing will happen to them," he said.

Security forces reportedly arrested two suspected militants Monday. The Nigerian authorities have so far adopted negotiations to secure the release of the seized oil workers. However, there are growing indications that the option of the use of force may be considered if the standoff continues.

An American, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran were seized on January 11 in the Delta. The militants have since blown up some oil facilities resulting in a 10 percent cut in Nigeria's daily oil production.