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Efforts Under Way to Free Foreign Oil Workers in Nigeria - 2003-05-02

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has asked the country's main labor union to help secure the release of several hundred oil workers held captive on oil rigs since mid April.

A new round of talks to end the protest action by about 100 Nigerian workers is taking place Friday in the capital Abuja.

Nigeria's leader, Olusegun Obasanjo, requested that the Nigerian Labor Congress, the country's main labor union, take a lead role in the negotiations.

The talks also involve union leaders from Nigeria's oil sector and executives from the U.S. company, which operates the rigs, Transocean.

Union leaders have appealed to the government not to use force to end the crisis.

Political analyst Tunde Martins in Abuja says Nigeria's government has been unable to contain frequent unrest in oil-producing regions. "The president has been making efforts to intervene in the crisis in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria," he said. "It seems to stem from the belief of the local communities, especially the youth there, that the best way that they can eke out a living is by holding both Nigerian and foreign nationals hostage, which is quite unfortunate. That's why all the attempts by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo to persuade the youths to stop those acts, they have not succeeded, and it is quite unfortunate."

Nearly 100 foreigners are among the captives. Usually these types of hostage-taking incidents end peacefully, after a long period of negotiations.

Transocean has so far refused to agree to union demands to reinstate five Nigerian workers it recently fired over alleged theft and corruption.