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AP Worldstream: American oil worker abducted by Nigerian militants fears for life

DULUE MBACHU
Mar 15, 2006
A man who identified himself an American kidnapped by militants in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta last month said he feared for his life after he was separated from two other hostages.
During a telephone call Tuesday with The Associated Press, militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta passed the phone to the man, who identified himself as U.S. citizen Cody Oswald.
Militants have been holding Oswald and two others _ American Russel Spell and Briton John Hudspith _ since a Feb. 18 raid on an oil industry barge. It was unclear why the hostages were split up.
“I was separated from the rest of the guys after I was allowed to talk to my family on Saturday,” Oswald said.
“Since then I've not seen them, and I really fear for my life. Something needs to happen to see that their demands are met,” he added, before the phone was apparently taken from him.
The militants group claims to be fighting to win a greater share of oil wealth on behalf of the Niger Delta's impoverished inhabitants, who have remained poor despite the fact that most of Nigeria's oil is being pumped from the swampy region. The government calls the militants criminals and oil thieves.
A militant spokesman who initiated the telephone call reiterated their demands for the release of jailed ethnic Ijaw leaders and the payment by Royal Dutch Shell of a US$1.5 billion (A1.26 billion) compensation to Ijaw communities for oil pollution, also demanded by Nigerian lawmakers, in exchange for the hostages.
Foreign oil workers are frequently taken hostage in Nigeria, and most are released unharmed.
The militants took nine foreign oil workers hostage Feb. 18 from a barge owned by Houston-based oil services company Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline in the delta for Royal Dutch Shell. They released six of them after 12 days in captivity.
Authorities in Nigeria's Delta state met Wednesday with prominent ethnic Ijaw political leaders in the oil-port city of Warri to seek ways of obtaining the release of the remaining hostages.
A statement signed by key Ijaw youth leaders, who were involved in negotiating the earlier release of the six Willbros employees, called for the other three to be freed.
The militants, however, rejected the demand.
“No amount of blackmail, intimidation or threat of military attack will make us give up our demands or the hostages,” said the militant, who declined to give his name but described himself as one of the group's commanders.
A wave of militant attacks over the last two months has forced Nigeria to cut daily exports by 20 percent. Nigeria normally exports about 2.5 million barrels per day and is the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.
Associated Press writer Osmond Chidi contributed to this report from Warri, Nigeria.

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