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Nigeria Moves to Free Abducted German Oil Workers

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Nigeria Moves to Free Abducted German Oil Workers

Posted 17 June 2005:

By REUTERS

LAGOS (Reuters) – The southeastern Nigerian state of Bayelsa has ordered a militant group to release two German and four Nigerian oil workers it kidnapped in the Niger Delta, a government spokesman said on Thursday.

The six employees of oil services company Bilfinger-Berger (B&B), a local contractor for Royal Dutch Shell, were abducted on Wednesday while traveling by boat from Delta State to Bayelsa State, where the militant group is based.

“The governor has already directed that they be released immediately. The government has dispatched a high-powered team to the area with a mandate to get them out,” the spokesman said by phone from Yenegoa, the Bayelsa state capital.

B&B had earlier said regional authorities were dealing with the matter and they were hopeful the captives would be released later on Thursday.

A B&B spokesman said the workers, who were captured on the Dodo River by the little-known Iduwini National Movement for Peace and Development, were unharmed and had been allowed to communicate with the company by telephone.

The group said the abductions were aimed at putting pressure on the local unit of Shell to deliver promised jobs and development projects in the Iduwini area. The Iduwini are a clan within the Ijaw, the dominant ethnic group in the Niger Delta.

Shell, which accounts for nearly half of OPEC member Nigeria’s production, said it had signed an agreement with nine communities in the area in 2002 to fund a series of development projects.

A company spokesman said some of the projects had been completed while others would be carried out between 2006 and 2011 due to the amount of capital required.

The spokesman said that before the kidnappings, Shell was already planning an “engagement session” with the communities to explain to them why the projects would take so long to complete.

Conflicts between oil multinationals and ethnic militants are common in the Niger Delta, which pumps almost all of Nigeria’s 2.3 million barrels per day output. The West African country is the world’s eighth-biggest oil exporter.

Many communities in the impoverished wetlands believe they are not getting a fair share of the huge riches being extracted from their tribal lands.

Militant groups often demand money and services from companies, under threat of violence, but usually release their hostages after negotiations.

In December, a group calling itself the Iduwini Youths kidnapped a Croatian and 15 Nigerian oil workers from another Shell contractor. They were all released unharmed following the intervention of the local authorities.

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