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The Scotsman: Belgian, Moroccan oil workers kidnapped in Nigeria

By Austin Ekeinde

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (Reuters) – Two oil industry contractors, one Belgian and one Moroccan, were kidnapped by armed men in Nigeria’s southern delta on Thursday, the fourth such abduction in a week.

The wave of kidnappings of foreign workers in the world’s eighth largest exporter follows a series of attacks on oil installations earlier in the year, which forced Western multinationals to cut Nigerian production by a quarter.

“Two foreigners working for a company in Borokiri were kidnapped by armed men,” said Samuel Adetuyi, Rivers state police commissioner in Port Harcourt.

A colleague of the men at Dredging International in Port Harcourt said the hostages were Belgian and Moroccan.

“They were taken from their car at 6:45. It was an armed kidnap,” the colleague said, asking not to be named.

The Foreign Ministry in Belgium confirmed the kidnapping of one its citizens and said it was monitoring the situation.

Dredging International is a unit of Belgium-based DEME Group and works as a dredging and ship services contractor to several Western companies in Africa’s top oil producer.

Kidnappings of foreign workers are frequent in the mangrove-lined creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria, which is home to all of the country’s oil and gas.

On Wednesday, two Norwegians and two Ukrainians were snatched at gunpoint from a ship servicing an oil rig off the coast of neighbouring Bayelsa state, while a German and three Filipinos were abducted in two separate incidents in Rivers state last week.

U.S. oil services company Willbros announced that it was putting its Nigerian business up for sale this week because of the growing risks of kidnapping and violence.

ETHNIC NATIONALISM

Many abductions are motivated principally by ransom, but some recent incidents have taken on a more political tone, with demands reflecting a growing ethnic nationalism among the Ijaw tribe, which is native to the Niger Delta.

Militancy is fuelled by widespread feelings of injustice in the vast wetlands region where most people live in poverty despite the wealth being pumped from their ancestral lands.

Criminal gangs, sometimes involved in the large-scale theft of crude oil from pipelines, also regularly indulge in kidnapping and extortion, and it is often difficult to distinguish between the two.

The employer of the German hostage, construction company Bilfinger Berger, said it had been in touch with the 62-year-old man several times and he was well.

The militants holding him sent an email to the media on Wednesday containing a statement by the German and a photograph of him. It restated the group’s demands for the release of two jailed Ijaw leaders and more investment by the company in the community where it works.

A series of attacks in February by a militant group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta forced Royal Dutch Shell to evacuate hundreds of staff from the region, reducing output by about 500,000 barrels a day.

This group has threatened to stop all oil production from Nigeria until its demands, including local control over the delta’s oil riches, oil spill compensation and the release of the two Ijaw leaders, are met.

(c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

 

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