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Nigerian Militants Free Italian Captives

Two Italian hostages kidnapped by a Nigerian militant group in Southern Nigeria three months ago have been released. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja has more.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, also known as MEND, in an email sent to VOA said the release came in response to pleas from individuals in what it characterized as "the struggle to liberate the oil-rich region."

The two men, both employees of Italian oil company Agip, were abducted in the restive Bayelsa state on December 7 by MEND. The armed group is fighting for a greater share of Nigeria's oil wealth.

A spokesman for Bayelsa state, Ekiyol Wilson, says there is profound relief all hostages in the state have now been released.

"They [hostages] have been released. They have been handed over to their company. So, right now, there is no outstanding hostage situation in Bayelsa. No single hostage is being kept in Bayelsa again. We thank God for that," he said. "These things are politically motivated. So, we are doing everything possible to properly guide these boys, so that they are not misused and misled. And so, it will never happen again."

Only one foreigner, a French national, remains in captivity in the Niger Delta. However, the rebels promised to increase attacks on oil facilities in the coming days.

Nearly 100 foreign oil workers have been seized in the troubled Niger Delta in the past one year, forcing a 20 percent decline in oil exports.

Often hostages are released unharmed after a ransom has been paid. MEND, which emerged in late 2005 and has led a sustained assault on the Nigerian oil industry, is one of several armed groups operating in the region.