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Gunmen Seize Three Oil Workers in Nigeria


Gunmen have kidnapped three oil workers in the latest in a series of abductions in Nigeria's restive oil-rich Niger Delta. The Croatian Foreign Ministry says two of those kidnapped are from Croatia and the third is from Montenegro. Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA, an American oil worker was released Sunday, hours before the others were abducted.

The kidnapped oil workers were reportedly out drinking late Sunday, when gunmen stormed the bar in Nigeria's main oil city Port Harcourt, and kidnapped them.

No group has claimed responsibility, but kidnapping for ransom has become a fairly regular occurrence in Nigeria's troubled Delta region. Hostages are often released without harm after payment of ransom.

Tony Tamuno, a journalist in Port Harcourt, says the unprecedented rise in abductions has provoked speculations of a grand conspiracy to extort money.

"People are getting tired with the spate of kidnappings, not only in Port Harcourt, but in the Niger Delta region," he said. "Every other day, you hear, this person has been kidnapped, the next day, another person is released, the next day, someone else is kidnapped."

"And, people feel that maybe something is happening, and we are yet to be told the truth. Obviously, some people are benefiting. People now believe that something is happening, Mr. A or Mr. B could be benefiting from it," he added.

More than 50 foreign workers have been seized in the Niger Delta since January, almost as many as for the whole of 2006. This represents a dramatic surge of violence across the remote creeks of the Delta.

Tamuno says accessing the mangrove swamps is a major challenge for the Nigerian security in dealing with the growing anarchy.

He said, "The security agencies are doing their best. The biggest handicap, or problem, I know they have is, going to the creeks, to go after the kidnappers or militants."

"The terrain is very difficult; the creek is very, very difficult to meander. And the boys who stay in the creeks have mastered the terrain very well, [so] that going after them will be something like a suicide mission," he continued.

An American engineer was released Saturday, having spent about four weeks in captivity. At least eight foreigners are still held by gunmen in the region.

The violence has paralyzed Nigeria's oil industry, slashing production by more than 20 percent. Nigeria, Africa's largest oil exporter lost more than $4 billion in oil revenues last year due to declining production.