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Reuters: UPDATE 1-All hostages at Shell Nigerian oil platform freed

LAGOS, Oct 12 (Reuters) – Nigerian villagers who overran a Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L: Quote, Profile, Research) facility in the delta have freed all the 60 oil workers and troops they held hostage, officials said on Thursday.

Armed youths from the Oporoma community in Bayelsa state seized the facility on Tuesday, forcing Shell to shut the Nun River flow station, which produces 12,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil, further cutting output from the world’s eighth biggest exporter after a week-long resurgence of violence.

“All of them have now been released by the villagers,” a government official told Reuters by telephone from the capital Yenagoa.

The first batch of captives was freed on Tuesday, while the second batch of eight was released late on Wednesday following the intervention of the regional authorities.

Shell said the villagers, who overran the facility in a feud over commuinity benefits, had yet to leave and that production cannot resume at the oil platform until they all do.

“The hostages have been released, but the villagers are yet to vacate the facility. We hope that the issue will be resolved soon to enable us restart production,” said a spokesman for Shell, Nigeria’s biggest operator.

Disputes between oil multinationals and local communities over jobs, contracts and development projects, are common in the impoverished Niger Delta from where almost all of Nigeria’s 2.4 million bpd of oil output is pumped. They are usually resolved with the intervention of the regional authorities.

President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Wednesday that Nigeria was losing 600,000 bpd of oil output due to militant attacks in the delta, a loss that is likely to last until year-end.

A string of militant attacks in the western delta in February forced Shell to shut 486,000 bpd, and the violence appears to be spreading east.

Seven foreign oil workers are still missing after last week’s unprecedented attack on a residential compound for ExxonMobil contractors in Eket, in Akwa Ibom state in the eastern delta, in which two Nigerian security guards were killed.

Violence in the delta is fuelled by poverty, graft and lawlessness. Most inhabitants of the wetlands region, which is almost the size of England, have seen few benefits from about 50 years of oil extraction that has damaged their environment.

Resentment towards 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.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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