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Hostage Takers in Nigeria Want Neutral Negotiators


Hostage takers in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta want neutral negotiators to secure the release of nine foreign captives, while local residents say they are the real victims of the renewed cycle of violence.

In their latest e-mail to journalists, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said there had been no negotiations for the release of the three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino.

Armed militants seized the nine Saturday while they were laying pipeline for Anglo-Dutch giant Royal Dutch Shell.

The captors said they want a neutral third party to negotiate. They called the Nigerian government fraudulent.

Their main demands are for the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders, one a separatist militant leader, the other an impeached governor, and compensation for pollution. They are warning of more attacks, such as blowing up parts of an export terminal and pipelines as they have in recent days.

The government has set up a panel led by traditional leaders to contact the militants.

But a lawyer who lives in the region, Patrick Owom, says politicians themselves created the militias as a way to rig elections and swindel oil companies.

"The people who get to power are hoodlums. The government are more or less like armed robbers," he said. "You see why we have militants is that these same governments encouraged them and then governments find it difficult sometimes to deal with them because they will need them when they want to come back to power. They are unpopular so they will need thugs to scare people away so that they can rig election results and come back and say we have won."

"So the government actually started the process of thuggery, of violence," continued Owom. "These are their boys who have turned around to fight against them. So until the Nigerian people will be able to vote [for] decent, capable, responsible people, not with guns, the problem of violence will not stop.

An ethnic Ijaw youth, Nwosu Chidi, says whatever the situation, oil workers and oil companies still make lots of money, while local farming fields are polluted, so he does not find it surprising foreigners are being targeted.

"This oil means a lot. Then why are they kidnapping the foreigners? Because they believe the foreigners are not doing their best, if they are doing their best, I think the government will be a little more relaxed," commented Chidi.

The leader of an ethnic Ikwere youth group, Wonodi Kingsley, laments the cycle of violence, even if he understands the motives of the militants.

"They believe in their struggle. They believe they can be organized by kidnapping, that is their own belief. But we believe, I personally believe, that it is by negotiations, dialogue," said Kingsley. "But to my own understanding their violence is to be recognized. Government can call them to a negotiating table where they can negotiate this once and for all."

The militants have warned they will kill hostages if they are attacked.

The government has ruled out military action for now, but the kidnappings did immediately follow raids on local communities to hunt down militants.

Previous hostages were released unharmed earlier this year, apparently for cash.