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Italian Energy Company Backs Talks to Free Hostages in Nigeria

The top executive for Italian energy company Eni says he supports negotiations to free four employees kidnapped in Nigeria early this month.

The company's chief executive officer, Paolo Scaroni, met with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Lagos Wednesday to discuss efforts to release the hostages.

In a company statement, Scaroni says he and the Nigerian president agreed to avoid using military action against the kidnappers. He says the president assured him the Nigerian government will continue negotiations to free the hostages, who include three Italians and one Lebanese national.

Armed militants kidnapped the workers during an attack on an oil installation in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region December 7.

The militant group says it will not accept a ransom. It is instead demanding Nigerian authorities release two jailed leaders.

Attacks by militants and kidnappers have cut Nigeria's oil production by up to 25 percent over the past year. The country normally pumps some 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.

Militants in the delta say they are seeking a larger share of oil revenue and jobs for villages in the region.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.