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Gunmen Kidnap at Least 3 Oil Workers in Nigeria


At least three foreigners have been kidnapped by gunmen and two people injured in Nigeria's southern oil city of Port Harcourt Friday. The incident comes days after new President Umaru Yar'Adua called for an end to violence in the delta to allow for a period of discourse. Sarah Simpson reports from Lagos.

Police say the victims were snatched early Friday by unidentified but well armed gunmen who raided a residential compound where the workers were staying in Port Harcourt.

Rivers State spokeswoman Irejua Barasua says at least three foreign workers were abducted and two people - possibly police officers - were caught up in the cross-fire.

Barasua said that the gunmen may have taken off with more than three hostages, but she could not confirm details.

This is the first kidnapping to take place since the country's new President Umaru Yar'Adua made an appeal for calm in the delta at his inauguration on Tuesday.

Mr. Yar'Adua is hopes dialogue will end a crisis that has forced oil companies to cut production by 25 percent. He plans to hold a Niger Delta Summit in the capital Abuja on Monday and has promised action to

resolve the crisis within his first 100 days in office.

The nationality of the victims was not immediately clear, though police said they were foreign nationals, possibly of Asian origin.

Foreign workers have become prized targets for gun-toting militant and criminal groups operating in the oil-rich region.

Jomo Gbomo is the nickname of one of the main militant groups' spokesman. He told VOA in an e-mail - the only means of communication he will use with journalists - that the president's promises of dialog were "nothing new." He said, "We want action and not more talk."

Gbomo's group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or "MEND," has staged many of the attacks on oil installations.

MEND say they are not responsible for Friday's kidnappings.

Some 180 foreign nationals have been seized in the last 18 months. Militant groups like MEND say they are fighting injustice in the Niger Delta, which despite its vast oil reserves remains impoverished.

Kidnappings have increasingly become a money making enterprise by armed youths out to extract hefty ransom payments.

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil exporter and the third largest supplier to the United States.