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20 Foreign Workers Kidnapped in S. Nigeria; 8 Said to Be Freed

Gunmen in Nigeria's volatile Niger Delta region have kidnapped at least 20 foreign workers in three incidents since late Wednesday, though some of the hostages have reportedly been freed.

The region's most prominent militant group - the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (or MEND) - said in a e-mail Thursday that it seized eight workers during an attack on an Italian oil vessel but has already released them.

The group denied involvement with the two other incidents in which a Dutch man was seized from a bar in the town of Warri, and armed men took three South Koreans and eight Filipinos from a power plant construction site near Port Harcourt.

Such kidnappings are common in the Niger Delta, where criminal gangs are active, and where militants have been pressuring the government to give more of the region's oil wealth to impoverished locals.

Most of the workers kidnapped have been released unharmed.

MEND claimed responsibility for another kidnapping Tuesday in which six foreign workers were taken from an offshore oil field operated by Chevon. The group says it released the eight workers it seized today because it has no need for more hostages.

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