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Financial Times: Nigerian militants release 6 hostages

By Dino Mahtani in Warri and agencies
Published: March 2 2006 00:03 | Last updated: March 2 2006 00:03
A Nigerian militant group responsible for the abduction of oil workers and attacks that have disabled oil facilities in the delta region Wednesday night released six of the nine hostages they held.
But the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) continued to hold three captives – two Britons and an American – and warned of further attacks on the oil industry. The nine hostages – all contract workers for Royal Dutch Shell – were kidnapped on February 18.
The staggered releases saw first a 69-year-old US citizen, Macon Hawkins, handed over to foreign journalists visiting the Niger Delta in an act which suggests the militants have developed an understanding of how to manipulate the foreign media. Boat-loads of heavily armed militants in combat gear and wearing black masks met journalists deep in the creeks of the oil-producing delta, where they released Mr Hawkins in what was described as a gesture of “goodwill”.
The militants had warned of a “surprise” but stunned the small group of journalists present when they freed Mr Hawkins, having already tipped off other news agencies. Hours later five other captives – two Egyptians, two Thais and one Filipino – were also freed. There was no word on the remaining hostages.
Mend, which says it is fighting for the rights of the majority tribe in the delta, the Ijaw, has already caused considerable damage to the Nigerian oil industry in guerrilla-style attacks on facilities operated principally by Shell, Nigeria’s largest oil producer. The attacks have reduced by one-fifth the output from the world’s eighth-largest crude exporter.
Armed militancy in the delta has increased in the last few years in Nigeria with the onset of democracy in 1999. Security analysts and industry officials blamed politicians for arming many militant groups in the run-up to national elections in 1999 and 2003.
Many armed gangs belong to cartels that include military and political figures in the illegal theft of crude oil, the proceeds of which are often used to maintain sophisticated arsenals. While the militants’ rhetoric may be predicated on political marginalisation and economic deprivation among the Ijaw, some diplomats believe the movement’s grievances may be dictated more by turf wars over oil-rich territory and political dealings between Ijaw leaders and government officials.

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