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Petroluem News: Nigerian militants release last hostages

Group threatens continued attacks on oil installations; nine foreign workers taken hostage Feb. 18 from Willbros Group barge
Osmond Chidi
Associated Press Writer
Militants demanding control of revenues from Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta released their last remaining foreign hostages on March 27 — two Americans and a Briton — but threatened to continue attacks on oil installations.
Abel Oshevire, spokesman for the southern Delta state government, said Americans Cody Oswalt and Russell Spell and Briton John Hudspith were released just before dawn after more than five weeks in captivity.
“They are here with us now and are all in good health,” Oshevire told reporters.
The militants, responsible for a wave of recent attacks in southern Nigeria, took nine foreign oil workers hostage Feb. 18 from a barge owned by Willbros Group Inc., a Houston-based oil services company that was laying pipeline in the delta for Royal Dutch Shell. The group released six of the captives after 12 days.
The last three hostages could be seen from a distance as they greeted officials, but the freed men did not immediately address reporters.
The militants have targeted the oil industry in the world’s eighth-largest producer of crude and the fifth largest supplier to the United States, blowing up oil installations and cutting production by 20 percent.
Crude-oil prices slipped under US$64 a barrel March 27 after the release of the hostages eased concerns about supplies. But Nigeria remained volatile, and nagging worries about Iran persisted.
Since the attacks began, Royal Dutch Shell has closed half its oil fields and one of its two main loading terminals. Despite the danger, however, oil companies remain drawn to the country because its benchmark Bonnie Light is so easily — and inexpensively — extracted, and is of high quality.
The militants warned that the release of the hostages did not mean an end to attacks: “The keeping of hostages is a distraction to us,” the group wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
In a general news release, the group said it had better uses for what it claimed were 800 fighters needed to take care of the hostages — namely more attacks on oil facilities.
The e-mail to AP said the hostages were released at the request of local communities who had welcomed the militants after the Nigerian military launched attacks on Delta communities accused of stealing oil. The military has withdrawn and the commander who ordered the assaults has left the area.
Government met none of demands
The group also told the AP that the government had met none of its demands for the release of the hostages, which include the release two arrested leaders of the Ijaw tribe and payment by Royal Dutch Shell of US$1.5 billion to compensate Ijaw communities for oil pollution — a demand that has also come from Nigerian lawmakers. “Our ultimate aim is the control of the resources of the Niger Delta by its people,” said the message to the AP.
President Olusegun Obasanjo’s office released a statement welcoming the release and calling on the militants to “choose the path of dialogue and due process in resolving problems instead of” resorting to violence.

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