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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Nigerian Militants Free Hostages

Associated Press
June 8, 2006 7:37 p.m.

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria — Nigerian militants released six hostages Thursday — five South Koreans and one Nigerian — liberating them at the request of a jailed militant leader whose freedom they had demanded in exchange.

The hostages were seen arriving by car at the office of the regional governor in the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt late Thursday, a day after they were kidnapped from a Shell gas plant as part of a violent raid in Nigeria’s oil-rich delta. There they were handed over to their employers, said Rivers state attorney general, Odein Ajumogobia.

The tired and disheveled men were escorted by a Nigerian senator who received the hostages from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND.

The militants said they released the workers in response to an appeal by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, a prominent militant leader jailed last year. They had originally demanded his release in exchange for releasing the hostages.

The release of Mr. Dokubo-Asari, an ethnic Ijaw who has called for autonomy for southern Nigerians and was jailed on treason charges, has been a top militant demand since they took up arms earlier this year and began waging a violent campaign for redistribution of the country’s oil wealth. It was unclear how or where Mr. Dokubo-Asari made the appeal.

MEND said they released the hostages to Senator David Brigidi — an ethnic Ijaw member of the Nigerian Senate who has spoken out in favor of securing greater local control of oil wealth. Mr. Brigidi represents one of three senatorial constituencies in Bayelsa state, where the hostages were seized Wednesday.

Earlier Thursday, the group again warned the South Koreans’ employer to leave the Niger Delta “or face even more drastic action” in the future.

The militant group has been responsible for a wave of attacks and hostage takings this year in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta. The group says the impoverished residents of the delta don’t receive enough of the oil revenue.

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

Copyright © 2006 Associated Press

 

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