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Reuters: Ten Nigeria militants die in botched hostage release

21 Aug 2006 18:42:18 GMT
By Segun Owen

YENAGOA, Nigeria, Aug 21 (Reuters) – Up to 10 Nigerian militants involved in the release of a hostage were killed in a shootout with troops when they ran into a military convoy in the oil-producing Niger Delta, authorities said on Monday.

The gunfight broke out on Sunday night when the militants, having taken possession of the captive employee of Royal Dutch Shell, ran into a heavily armed convoy escorting supplies to an oilfield in the Brass Creek area of Bayelsa state.

In conflicting accounts of what happened, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said their boat carrying the hostage was ambushed, while the military said their convoy was attacked.

It was not clear whether the hostage, a Nigerian community liaison worker, survived the fighting.

“We lost 10 of the 14 fighters in this attack,” MEND said in an e-mail.

State government officials frequently seek the help of militants to secure the release of hostages, and usually tip off security forces of any such operation to ensure they are not attacked.

A military source said three soldiers were also injured in the firefight and estimated the number of militant dead at four.

“They attacked a convoy being escorted by the Joint Task Force,” the source said, adding that the militants’ boat was seized.

Shell said it had received reports of the clash and that its employee may have been affected. “We are making efforts to determine what actually happened,” it said in a statement.

ROUTINE VISIT

The Shell worker was abducted during a routine visit to the village of Letugbene, in the presence of Bayelsa state government officials, on Aug. 8. Shell said it had been working with the state government to secure his freedom.

MEND is a new coalition of militant groups which sprung up at the end of last year and staged a series of kidnappings and attacks on the world’s eighth largest oil exporter. It has forced Shell to reduce the output by 500,000 barrels a day, or a quarter of Nigerian capacity, since February.

MEND, which has failed to follow through on more recent threats to widen its attacks, demands local control over the Niger Delta’s huge oil resources. A variety of different groups have staged another series of kidnappings of oil workers this month, with demands ranging from political issues to ransoms and community development projects from oil companies.

MEND said on Monday that it had resolved to put an end to the kidnappings for ransom.

“We resolved to halt hostage takings for ransom in the delta and demanded all communities and persons holding such to release them,” MEND said in the e-mail.

The clash in Bayelsa followed a military crack-down on militants in neighbouring Rivers state, where most of the latest kidnappings have taken place.

Troops arrested about 150 people in a raid on a suspected militant hideout in a riverside slum on the outskirts of Port Harcourt, the largest city in the delta, over the weekend.

A military spokesman said about 110 people had already been released, and that the “cordon and search” operation would now be extended to other parts of the delta.

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