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The New York Tmes: Nigeria Hostages Won't Be Released: Militants

By REUTERS
Published: January 27, 2006
Filed at 7:26 a.m. ET
LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian militants believed to be holding four foreign oil workers hostage said on Friday they did not plan to release them any time soon, dashing hopes of an imminent end to the 17-day crisis.
A spokesman for Bayelsa state, which is leading government contacts with the kidnappers, had said negotiators had reached a point where the foreigners — an American, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran — could be released at any time.
But in an e-mail to Reuters the militants said: “I promised you the hostages were going nowhere in spite of the rumors and repeat that to you.''
The militants added that more hostages could be taken soon.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is demanding more local control over the region's huge oil wealth, the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders and compensation to delta villages for decades of oil pollution.
It has launched a wave of attacks on oil pipelines and platforms which have forced Royal Dutch Shell, Nigeria's largest oil producer, to cut a tenth of Nigeria's output and withdraw 500 staff.
“As promised we will soon commence with our second wave of attacks. … We intend to inflict as much damage as we can with each attack (so) that careful planning and coordination is key,'' the militants said.
These militants, who have consistently denied being in any talks with the government and rejected any idea of release until their demands are met, have provided proof they are holding the hostages by allowing them to speak to Reuters twice.
There has been no contact with the hostages since January 20, when they complained of fatigue and diarrhea.
SECURITY TALKS
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Thursday talks with the hostage takers were progressing, and downplayed any effect on investment in the Africa's largest oil producer.
However, Shell Chief Executive Jeroen van der Veer said the company would not repair damage to its installations until it held talks with the government on improving security in the world's eighth largest exporter.
The rising militant threat in the delta, which produces nearly all Nigeria's 2.4 million barrels of oil a day, is entwined with political uncertainty ahead of elections next year and constitutes a threat to Nigerian unity, analysts Eurasia Group said.
Some of the demands of the kidnappers are echoed by the delta's politicians, who are vying with other geo-political zones for the ruling party's presidential nomination.
“There is a real risk that 2006 will be the year in which the essentially irreconcilable differences between Nigeria's Muslim north and mostly Christian south threaten the unity of the country,'' Eurasia Group said in a report.
Dozens of people have been killed in the attacks on two major oil export pipelines and two oil production platforms since December 20, although it is unclear if this week's attack on Italian oil company Agip, a unit of ENI, was by the same group.
More troops have been deployed to key oil installations, villagers have fled and Obasanjo has declined to say whether the crisis, now in its third week, will be resolved by force.
Many villagers in the vast delta of mangrove swamps and tidal creeks fear military reprisals for the killing of at least a dozen soldiers.
Oil unions have threatened to withdraw members completely from the delta if the security situation worsens.
Tensions in Nigeria helped drive oil prices above $67 a barrel on Friday but OPEC President Edmund Daukoru said he did not expect any cutback in supplies in his country to last.
“The drop is very very short term. … So I know the market is jittery but really there is not much need for concern for Nigeria,'' he said in Davos.

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