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Independent Online (South Africa): Militants show signs of split in kidnap drama

By Austin Ekeinde
January 24 2006 at 09:54AM
Yenagoa – Nigerian militants dissociated themselves on Monday from “bounty hunters” negotiating with authorities for the release of four foreign hostages, raising the possibility of divisions within the group.
Officials had expressed hope the hostages could soon be released after receiving a recent photograph of the oil workers on Sunday from a person they believed was a credible go-between with militants.
Authorities met the representative again on Monday to pursue ransom discussions, a government spokesperson said, despite an email from the group to Reuters saying they were not involved in the talks.
'These individuals are making a lot of money from the Nigerian government'
“These individuals are making a lot of money from the Nigerian government and oil companies pretending to be in a position to facilitate their release. They are going nowhere. Rather we intend to add to their number,” the email said.
The government has paid $77 000 (about R460 000) to the group to negotiate the hostages' release, it added.
An ethnic Ijaw activist familiar with the situation said there were two different groups within the militant movement: a politically motivated band responsible for attacks on oil installations and a commercially motivated one holding the hostages.
“At the end of the day the hostages' release could just be about money, but the attacks on the oil facilities will continue,” he said, asking not to be named.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which said it was a coalition of militant groups in the delta, abducted the workers during a month-long campaign of violence which has cut Nigerian oil output by one tenth and pushed world oil prices to their highest level since September.
Bayelsa State Police Commissioner Hafiz Ringin said that he believed the person claiming to represent the kidnappers was a “genuine contact”.
The photograph provided by this person showed the hostages – an American, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran – in apparently good health and sporting beards, indicating it was taken recently, diplomats said.
A group of 10 youths attacked an oil platform operated by Agip, a unit of Italy's ENI, on Monday but were repelled by troops.
A security official said one person was killed in the raid, which appeared to be caused by a local dispute over money. Oil output was unaffected.
Unions have threatened to withdraw workers from the restive delta, which produces almost all the nation's 2,4 million barrels per day, if the security situation deteriorates.
Dozens of people have been killed in raids and bombings by the militia.
Royal Dutch Shell has cut its production by 210 000 barrels a day and pulled out more than 500 staff. Hundreds of contractors have also fled.
The militant group has insisted that it will not compromise on its demands for the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders, more local control over oil revenues, and $1,5-billion (about R9-billion) in pollution compensation to delta villages from Shell.
“We are going ahead with the planned attacks aimed at grounding the Nigerian economy and further hurting the oil companies,” the group said in am email on Monday.
Its key demand is the release of militant leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and former Bayelsa state governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Alamieyeseigha, impeached last month for money laundering after escaping arrest in Britain, is a political foe of the president and a major scalp in his war on corruption. Asari is on trial for treason after leading a bloody insurgency in 2004.
Industry sources say the political aims of the militants mean attacks may last until elections next year. An uprising before 2003 polls hit 40 percent of Nigeria's oil production.
Additional reporting by Tom Ashby and Tume Ahemba

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