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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Militants: 5 S. Koreans Abducted in Nigeria

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 7, 2006
Filed at 7:47 a.m. ET

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen kidnapped five South Koreans in an overnight raid on a gas plant in southern Nigeria owned by Shell, the militants and officials from the company and Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

Several Nigerian soldiers and one of the assailants were killed in a firefight during the raid, according to the Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta, which claimed responsibility.

MEND, the main militant group in Nigeria, has been responsible for a wave of attacks and abductions this year in the country’s oil-rich southern delta. The militants say impoverished southern Nigerians aren’t getting enough of the oil revenue.

Hostage-takings are common in the volatile delta, and most captives are released unharmed.

Nigeria is Africa’s leading oil exporter and the United States’ fifth-largest supplier, usually exporting 2.5 million barrels daily.

An official at the Nigerian arm of Royal Dutch Shell PLC said the hostages were working as contractors at the Shell plant near Nigeria’s oil hub of Port Harcourt. Shell said it has shut down the plant, which has capacity of 150 million cubic feet of gas a day.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said the plant was attacked by gunmen but said he had no details on casualties.

MEND indicated it wanted to exchange the hostages for the delta region’s most prominent leader, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who has called for autonomy for southerners and was jailed last year on treason charges. His release has been a top militant demand since they took up arms this year.

The statement advised the South Korean contractor to ”close down its operations with immediate effect as a second attack will bring only death.”

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said three of the kidnapped South Koreans worked for Daewoo Engineering and Construction Co., and the other two are from the state-invested Korea Gas Corp., the ministry said. A Nigerian was also kidnapped, South Korea said.

The Koreans were ”in good health and have been returned to one of our bases,” the militants said. ”As long as the units holding these individuals do not come under attack, no harm will come to the prisoners. We do not kill those fortunate to be captured by our fighters.”

The militants said they launched the assault just after midnight, attacking and burning a military houseboat used by security forces at the Daewoo facility, and killing some of its occupants.

The militants said four Nigerian naval vessels launched a counterattack, sparking a battle that destroyed a military boat that had six soldiers aboard at the time.

”The remaining three boats fled the scene with heavy casualties,” the militants said, adding that they had no precise figure on those killed or wounded. One militant was also killed and two others wounded during the skirmish.

There were 14 South Korean workers at the site, but the other nine escaped and took shelter in a control room, the ministry in Seoul said. A Nigerian man was also kidnapped, it said.

The militants said they would target ”facilities of crucial importance to the oil industry” in more attacks in the next few weeks.

”Oil companies in the Niger Delta are again warned to leave while they can.”

Violence and sabotage of oil operations have been common in the Niger Delta for the past 15 years.

Militants blasted oil pipelines and taken hostages earlier this year, cutting oil production in Africa’s largest producer of crude by nearly 20 percent and sending prices soaring on international markets.

The government says the militants are little more than criminal gangs.

Last week, unidentified militants from southeastern Bayelsa state who were demanding jobs and money kidnapped six Britons, one American and one Canadian from an offshore oil platform. All were released unharmed days later.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, on a visit to Nigeria in March, signed an energy-cooperation agreement with President Olusegun Obasanjo. Nigeria’s state oil company and the Korean National Oil Co. also signed a deal to collaborate in the exploration of two oil fields in the south.

Associated Press Writers Kelly Olsen and Jae-Soon Chang contributed to this report.

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