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Nigerian Rebels Claim Rescue of Kidnapped Lebanese Engineer

Nigeria's main rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, says it rescued a Lebanese man two days after his abduction in the restive southern oil city, Port Harcourt. MEND pledges to hand him over to state security officials. From Abuja, Gilbert da Costa filed this report for VOA.

According to an e-mailed statement from MEND, a commando unit conducted the rescue of Melad Nasari from "deep inside the bush where he was confined by his abductors."

A second victim, described as a Nigerian bank official was being held by what MEND says was a criminal gang. He was also freed.

Monday, gunmen kidnapped the Lebanese engineer in southern Nigeria's oil hub. No group claimed responsibility for the abduction.

Two years ago, militants launched a campaign of violent sabotage against the oil industry, to push for a greater share of the wealth generated from oil extraction. Criminal gangs are exploiting the anarchy to stage robberies and kidnappings for ransom.

A Niger Delta community leader and peace mediator, Chief Edwin Clark, blames the federal government for the tensions that continue to plague the oil-rich region.

"All we are trying to say is that government should show its willingness to do something," Clark said. "And, as long as it doesn't show it, the crisis will continue, particularly in Rivers State. We met the present president [Yar'Adua] on several occasions. I regard him as my son and will do nothing to embarrass him. But the people come first."

The Niger Delta conflict has simmered for over a decade. Government crackdowns or offers of peace talks have had little effect on the rebellion.

More than 200 foreigners have been seized since militants began their campaign, nearly three years ago. Almost all have been released unharmed.