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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Eight Foreign Oil Workers Freed in Nigeria: Police

Published: June 4, 2006
Filed at 1:55 a.m. ET

ABUJA (Reuters) – Eight foreign oil workers were released in Nigeria in the early hours of Sunday, police said, two days after they were kidnapped from an offshore oil rig by gunmen demanding jobs and development for their community.

National police spokesman Haz Iwendi said authorities in Bayelsa, a coastal state nearest to the rig, had brokered the release of the six Britons, one American and one Canadian. He did not offer any details on the conditions of their release.

“They are in sound health. They are on their way to Abuja,” said Iwendi, referring to the Nigerian capital several hundred kilometers (miles) north of Bayelsa state.

Spokesmen for Bayelsa were not immediately available for comment.

The kidnappers had not listed specific demands but wanted to force the oil companies to negotiate on a range of issues including employment for local people, environmental impact and development projects, sources from the companies involved said.

Abductions are a common tactic by disgruntled groups in the Niger Delta, a vast, impoverished wetland that produces the bulk of Nigeria’s 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil. Local people have seen few benefits from the industry.

The eight men’s abduction from the Bulford Dolphin exploration rig raised new security fears after a campaign of militant attacks earlier this year that have cut a quarter of crude oil output from Africa’s top producer.

The sophisticated night-time raid, carried out 40 miles off the coast of the Niger Delta by 20 to 30 gunmen in four speedboats, showed that even deep offshore facilities are no longer safe from well-armed local groups.

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