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The Independent: Nigeria urged not to use force to free kidnapped oil workers:

By Daniel Balintkurti in Lagos
Published: 21 January 2006
Britain is urging Nigeria not to use force to free four foreign oil workers held captive by a rebel militia in the south of the country.
A British delegation met Nigerian government officials yesterday in the state of Bayelsa, in the country's oil-rich southern delta, to discuss the crisis.
The workers – a Briton, an American, a Bulgarian and a Honduran – were seized on 11 January near a Shell oilfield by the militant group, which is behind attacks on Nigerian oil installations that have cut the Opec-member nation's crude exports by nearly 10 per cent.
A British high commission spokesman, Graham Bannatyne, said consular officials would remain in the area until the crisis had been resolved.
“The safety of the hostages is paramount to us, and we would not wish to see military action that would endanger their safety,” Mr Bannatyne said.
The governor of Bayelsa has been appointed head of a national committee to resolve the crisis, which was due to meet last night.
The kidnapping of the four workers signalled an escalation in violence in the area. A major Shell pipeline leading to its Forcados export terminal was blown up the following day, and more attacks followed in other areas. Shell has evacuated hundreds of workers from the delta.
The militants are demanding US$1.5bn (£850m) in compensation from Shell for environmental damage. They are also calling for the release of two figureheads of their ethnic Ijaw group: Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, a militia leader, and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the former governor of Bayelsa .
Mr Dokubo-Asari was jailed in September on treason charges, while Mr Alamieyeseigha faces extradition to Britain, after jumping bail on charges of money laundering.
The kidnapped workers are employed by two companies contracted by Shell in the delta: Ecodrill, a British firm, and Tidewater, an American firm based in Louisiana.
Nigeria, Africa's leading oil producer, exports 2.5 million barrels of oil daily and is the fifth-biggest source of US oil imports. AP

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