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Nigerians Debate Terrorist Label for Hostage Takers

The ongoing hostage saga in Nigeria has not only drawn international attention but some say, has portrayed the hostage takers as terrorists, wrecking havoc in the oil-rich territory.

Security forces in Nigeria have launched a manhunt for 20 armed men who Saturday invaded the offices of Daewoo, an oil service company in the Niger Delta.

Another group raided the offices of an Italian oil company last week. Nine people, including eight policemen, died in the ensuing gunfight.

Four oil workers have been abducted since January 11. At least 20 soldiers and policemen have been killed in the last two weeks.

The violence that has been sweeping across the Niger Delta has now left more than 30 people dead, cut oil production by ten percent and helped push up prices of crude worldwide.

President Olusegun Obasanjo says the militants are a bunch of terrorists though he had set up a committee to negotiate with them.

The U.S. administration seems to agree with the Nigerian leader and has ruled out direct talks to secure the release of an American oil worker, one of four being held.

Some Western media reports have similarly referred to the attackers as terrorists, sparking a debate in Nigeria about whether the terrorist label fits the militants.

"They have employed terrorist methods," said Maxi Okwu, a Nigerian lawyer, who has been studying recent activities of the militants. "Like I said, I understand their anger, I appreciate their problems but that does not justify the methods they are using to draw attention to their plight. But they are not terrorists strictly so-called but their methods are terrorist methods."

The current hostage saga is seen as a defining moment for the ethnic Ijaw militia which has been blamed for the unending violence in the region.

Previous kidnappings had ended with the payment of ransom and promises of jobs and social infrastructure.

This time, the hostage takers are making political demands and appear unwilling to reach a compromise with the authorities.

The predominant view in Nigeria is that the militants have sufficiently drawn world attention to the plight of their impoverished communities and should immediately release the captives.

Analysts say the goodwill they enjoy could disappear quickly if any harm comes to the hostages.

The Niger Delta which accounts for virtually all of Nigerias oil production has a population of 20 million spread out in more than 5,000 communities.