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Reuters: German oil worker released unharmed

EXTRACT: The kidnappings follow a series of attacks on the oil industry in February which forced Royal Dutch Shell to evacuate hundreds of workers from oilfields in the western delta, reducing the Opec member nation’s output by a quarter.

THE REUTERS ARTICLE

By Austin Ekeinde

Port Harcourt – A German oil worker taken hostage in Nigeria was freed overnight unharmed after two weeks in captivity, a state government spokesperson said on Saturday.

The release of Guido Schiffarth was unconnected to a military raid, also on Friday night, on a suspected militant hideout on the outskirts of Port Harcourt, the largest city in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta, authorities said.

“I was well treated and respected,” Schiffarth was quoted as saying by a spokesperson for the Rivers State government.

The 62-year-old employee of Bilfinger and Berger was snatched from his car by men disguised as soldiers in Port Harcourt on August 3, one of six separate abductions in Africa’s top oil producer this month.

There are now seven foreign workers in captivity – two Britons, an American, a German, a Pole, an Irish and a Lebanese – while 10 have been released.

Nobody was killed in Friday’s raid in Port Harcourt, but several people were arrested and several others were beaten as troops and police combed the riverside slum area of Ilabuchi and Eagle Island.

“The soldiers came looking for the bad boys,” said a resident who gave his name as Adolphus.

“They have been using this area to terrorise Port Harcourt.”

There were still more than 100 soldiers and police in the area on Saturday, backed up by helicopter gunships overhead and four navy gunboats on the creek.

“The soldiers were shooting in the air. They also molested people, asked some young men to remove clothes and lie on the wet ground.

“They flogged them with canes and the back of machetes,” Adolphus added.

Force for force

The raid came in response to an order from President Olusegun Obasanjo to use “force for force” in the vast wetlands region of southern Nigeria, especially in the eastern delta around Port Harcourt where the latest abductions have occurred.

The kidnappings follow a series of attacks on the oil industry in February which forced Royal Dutch Shell to evacuate hundreds of workers from oilfields in the western delta, reducing the Opec member nation’s output by a quarter.

Some abductions are motivated purely by ransom, while others are by communities trying to extract money or other benefits from oil companies operating in their area.

Several recent kidnappings and attacks have taken on a more political tone, with demands reflecting a growing ethnic nationalism of the Ijaw tribe, native to the Niger Delta.

In the case of Schiffarth, the kidnappers demanded the release of two jailed Ijaw leaders and more benefits for the community where the German company operates.

It was not clear what led to his release.

Militancy is fuelled by the fact that the region which produces 90 percent of the government’s wealth is poverty-stricken, polluted and politically marginalised.

Previous military assaults in the delta have brought accusations of human rights violations and inflamed tensions further.

Oil executives fear that heavy-handed reprisals against the militants could cause a bloodbath and trigger further crippling attacks on oilfields located deep in the mangrove-lined creeks.

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