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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Five Korean Gas Workers Taken Hostage in Nigeria

June 8, 2006

LAGOS, Nigeria — Gunmen kidnapped five South Koreans in a raid on a southern Nigeria gas plant owned by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, a militant movement that claimed responsibility and officials said.

The Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta said 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 demand of militants since they took up arms earlier this year.

An official at the Nigerian arm of Shell said the hostages were working as contractors at the company’s plant near Nigeria’s oil hub of Port Harcourt. Shell said it has shut down the plant.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said three of the kidnapped South Koreans work for Daewoo Engineering & Construction Co., and the other two are from Korea Gas Corp. A Nigerian was also kidnapped, the ministry 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 abductions coincide with a visit to South Korea by Nigerian Minister of State for Petroleum Edmund Daukoru.

South Korea has increasing interests in Nigeria, and earlier this year won exploration rights in return for billions of dollars of investment in Nigerian infrastructure.

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

The militants said they launched the assault early yesterday at a delta outlet called Cawthorne Channel, attacking and burning a military houseboat used by security forces defending the facility and killing some of its occupants.

The group 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 casualty figure. One militant was also killed and two others injured during the skirmish.

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 amid demands by the region’s impoverished communities for a greater share of oil revenue.

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

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

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.

Separately, crude-oil prices tumbled yesterday on a rise in U.S. fuel stocks and cooling tensions between the West and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program. However, the news of the kidnappings in Nigeria kept the market on edge.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil for July delivery at midday stood at $71.10 a barrel, down $1.40, or 1.9%.

U.S. crude supplies rose 1.1 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Administration said, surprising analysts, who had expected a decline of 500,000 barrels.

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