By Upstream staff
An Italian oil worker kidnapped last week in Nigeria will be freed in a matter of hours, a state government spokesman said today.
The expected release of the hostage, a contractor to oil services company Saipem , follows the intervention of a powerful militant group which ordered his unconditional freedom in an attempt to end a spate of kidnappings for ransom, Reuters reported.
“The hostage will be released to the government in the next few hours,” a spokesman for Rivers State government said.
The man was abducted at gunpoint from a bar near the company’s base in the southern city of Port Harcourt last Thursday, the eighth separate kidnapping in the region this month.
An army sergeant protecting him was killed by the attackers.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said today it had ordered the Italian’s unconditional and immediate release because it wanted to put an end to the spate of kidnappings for ransom.
The instruction reflects a growing view among activists in the region that their fight for more control over the delta’s oil wealth is becoming overshadowed by a wave of criminality.
Mend has taken hostages and staged a series of attacks against oil installations, but the group makes political demands and say that they do not accept ransoms.
They want greater regional autonomy over the oil wealth, the release of two jailed leaders from the delta, and compensation for decades of oil spills to villages.
“We understand the desire of all such groups in the delta to contribute to the struggle, but will not accept such negative contributions that put the genuine agitation of the oppressed Niger Delta peoples in a bad light,” Mend said in an email yesterday.
At least 10 Mend fighters were killed earlier this month trying to help release a Nigerian employee of Shell, who had been abducted on a visit in the southern state of Bayelsa.
Having secured the hostage’s release, the militants’ boat ran into a heavily armed military convoy and a gunfight broke out in which the hostage was killed.
The killings came just after President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the security services to crack down on kidnappers and threatened to sanction companies caught paying ransoms.