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Nigerian Militants Close to Ending Delta Siege

Suspected militants who raided an oil facility in Nigeria's restive Niger Delta have released several of the 60 oil workers held since Tuesday. The attackers are believed to have issued a ransom demand.

Officials in the southern Bayelsa state says the siege is close to being resolved, following long hours of talks between militants and mediators.

State police chief Hafiz Ringim confirmed the possible breakthrough. He says the negotiations have gone very well.

The police chief would not disclose specific demands, but it is widely speculated that the militants had asked for an unspecified sum of money, among other conditions.

Mr. Ringim told VOA that the militants say they are ready to leave the oil facility as soon as their requests are met.

"The situation is now under control. Government officials have spoken to the militants and they have agreed that this morning they could possibly end the siege if their demands are met," he said. "The government officials have returned here last night and this morning it is hoped government officials will satisfy the militants and everything will be over. They have made their demands and I think the government is looking into it."

The federal government's stated position is that no ransom should be paid to secure the release of kidnapped oil workers. But officials working for state governments in the region are believed to be paying money to kidnappers in the Delta.

More than 30 oil workers have been kidnapped this month and 14 soldiers reportedly killed. Twenty-five of those kidnapped one week ago have been released, but the whereabouts of seven expatriate workers remain unknown.

The Niger Delta, which produces all of Nigeria's crude oil, has a long history of attacks on oil facilities and kidnappings of oil workers.

A masked militant told journalists recently that the violent campaign in the region was based on their quest for justice and fairness.

"We want to see physical development, both from the oil companies and the Nigerian state," he said. "How can we be producing oil here and look at all these young men around you, they do not have anything doing; they do not have jobs; they do not have good education? Let most of them speak here, you will not understand what they are saying. Is that what is obtainable in oil producing countries? Let the U.N. come and intervene and let them set up commissions of inquiry and look into the matters of the Niger Delta and proffer a final solution."

Nigeria is the largest oil-producing country in Africa and the sixth-largest oil exporter in the world, with a daily crude output of 2.6 million barrels.

Violence in the Niger Delta has crippled the oil industry, cutting production by at least 500,000 barrels per day.