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3 Foreigners Kidnapped by Gunmen in Nigeria's Niger Delta


Three foreign nationals were kidnapped in two separate incidents Friday morning in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, an area beset by violence and unrest. For VOA, Sarah Simpson reports from Lagos.

The first incident came amid a flurry of gunfire in Port Harcourt, the main city in Rivers State and the hub of Nigeria's multi-billion dollar oil industry.

Police confirmed the man was Dutch and had been snatched from his waterside compound by gunmen in speedboats.

Hours later, two men, an Indian and a Lebanese, were seized by unidentified assailants in nearby Delta State, according Delta State police commissioner Ekpouodom Udom.

"They were doing their job when the militants went and kidnapped them," he said. "Loaded them inside a bus, to a beach where they had their boat. They put them inside their boat and off they went. We are looking for them right now."

The Niger Delta is a maze of creeks and waterways. Though crisscrossed by oil pipelines, there are few roads and much of the area is accessible only by boat.

So far this year more than 60 foreigners, most of them oil workers, have been taken hostage in the Niger Delta. With the exception of those taken Friday, all the others had been released unharmed.

Typically, hostage takers demand ransom for safe return of their captives.

Militia groups operating in the area are often responsible for the abductions, though no group has claimed responsibility for either of Friday's kidnappings.

The militias say they are seeking redress from the Nigerian government and oil companies who have pumped billions of dollars of crude from their fields, but left residents poor.

Observers say that hostage taking is increasingly a money making exercise for young men with no job and few prospects.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and largest producer of crude. Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in April that will mark the country's first ever transfer of power from one civilian head of state to another.

Analysts say that Niger Delta could become a flash point for election violence. Already, an EU election observer mission has said that it will not be sending team members to the delta states because of security fears.