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New York Times: Nigeria Kidnappers Demand Ransom, Fighting Subsides

By REUTERS
Published: October 5, 2006
Filed at 5:40 a.m. ET

ABUJA (Reuters) – Seven expatriate oil workers abducted in Nigeria are in good health and their kidnappers have demanded a ransom, a diplomat said on Thursday.

Fighting between militants and troops in a different part of the Niger Delta subsided overnight but Royal Dutch Shell suspended supply convoys in some creeks after militants said they killed 17 soldiers in gun battles on Wednesday.

“They’ve been in contact so we know they’re OK,” said a diplomat from one of the countries whose nationals were kidnapped on Tuesday night from a residential compound for contractors to ExxonMobil in Akwa Ibom state.

“There has been a demand for a ransom. We’re at that stage where the state government is moving toward negotiations. They will take the lead as in all previous cases,” he added.

The kidnapped men are four Britons, one Romanian, one Malaysian and one Indonesian. Kidnappings for ransom are common in the Niger Delta and hostages are usually released unharmed after money changes hands.

Violence has flared up this week in the delta, which accounts for all crude output from the world’s eighth-biggest exporter. A sixth of production capacity is already shut down following a wave of militant attacks in February.

Late on Wednesday, militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said they killed 17 soldiers in two separate gun battles in Rivers state.

One of the militants’ targets was an oil workers’ houseboat attached to a pumping station operated by Shell at Ekulama but there was no impact on production.

“We’re not shutting down anything for the time being, but there is no transport in certain areas for now,” a Shell source said.

FEAR OF REPRISALS

The MEND, who were behind the devastating raids in February, have threatened to stage a series of attacks against strategic oil installations in Rivers state over the next few days. They say they have moved 500 fighters into the state to protect communities against reprisals by the military.

An industry source said military chiefs and state governors from the delta held a meeting on the surge of violence on Wednesday, and oil companies had urged them to hold back on any reprisals to avoid further escalation.

The spiral of violence was set off when about 70 militants attacked a convoy of boats supplying Shell oilfields on Monday, killing at least three soldiers. They stole a barge of diesel and abducted 25 Shell contractors who have now all been freed.

Two smaller attacks took place on Monday in which militants seized weapons from military posts.

Then on Tuesday, about 18 gunmen burst into a residential compound for expatriate workers, killed two Nigerian security guards and seized seven foreigners. Security experts say it was the first time kidnappers captured expatriates from within their own compound.

Violence in the delta is rooted in poverty, corruption and lawlessness. Most inhabitants have seen few benefits from five decades of oil extraction that has damaged their environment.

Resentment toward the oil industry breeds militancy, but the struggle for control of a lucrative oil smuggling business and the lure of ransoms have also contributed to the violence.

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