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ANSA.it: Italian hostages in Nigeria

Nigerian Terrorists

 (Militants say they would rather kill them than accept ransom)

2006-12-20 14:36

LAGOS (ANSA) – A Nigerian militant group which is holding three Italian oil workers hostage said on Wednesday that it would rather kill the men than accept a ransom for their release.

In an e-mail sent to media organisations, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said that Agip, a subsidiary of Italian oil giant Eni, had offered cash for the release of the Italians and a fourth hostage who is from Lebanon.

“Agip has offered several criminals in the delta huge sums as a ransom, even asking us to name our price for the release of these hostages,” MEND said, adding that the payment of ransoms was illegal in both Nigeria and Italy.

“We advise Agip to ignore all those who claim to be able to facilitate the release of the hostages. Instead of being released, the hostages will be executed. That’s a promise,” the militants concluded.

On December 7, four Agip workers – Francesco Arena, Cosma Russa and Roberto Dieghi from Italy and Imad Abed from Lebanon – were kidnapped by MEND in a dawn attack on an Agip pumping station in Brass, a small coastal town in the swampy southern state of Bayelsa.

In return for the hostages’ release, MEND is demanding the withdrawal of foreign oil groups from Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region, and compensation and oil wealth for the local population.

It is also calling for the release of at least two jailed leaders.

MEND said last week that it would not release the hostages until after Christmas at the earliest.

The hostages have contacted reporters, telling them that they are well but concerned about the length of time they could be held captive.

MEND carried out further attacks against the oil industry on Monday, detonating two car bombs outside Agip and Royal Dutch Shell compounds in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt.

No-one was injured in the attacks, which did not halt oil production.

Masked gunmen attacked the Agip terminal in Brass in seven speedboats.

Armed troops deployed to protect the station sought to repel the militants and an eight-year-old local child was killed in the crossfire.

MEND, which staged similar hostage-taking raids in January and February, said in a statement afterwards that it wanted the release of former Bayelsa governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, in jail for corruption, and Niger Delta separatist leader Mujahid Dokubo Asari, who is being held on treason charges.

It demanded compensation from Eni, Shell and other oil industry giants and the “complete renouncement by the Nigerian government of its oil interests for the benefit of the delta community”.

MEND also said it wanted “reparations to be paid to the entire delta for 50 years of enslavement and robbery by the Nigerian government and oil industry”.

The group says the money will compensate the local population for oil spills and other damage inflicted on the environment since oil extraction began in the delta 50 years ago.

It threatened to bomb oil companies’ offices and vehicles unless its demands were met.

Since the start of 2006, there have been repeated incidents of violence in the Niger Delta, where all of Nigeria’s oil reserves are located.

The attacks on oil pipelines and hostage-taking raids have cut crude output by about 25% in Nigeria – Africa’s biggest oil producer and the eighth largest in the world.

Hostages are usually released unharmed in return for ransoms but during one such incident last month, a British hostage and a Nigerian were killed and an Italian injured as Nigerian soldiers tried to free them and other captives.

In all, some 70 oil industry workers have been taken hostage this year and at least 37 Nigerian soldiers have been killed in the Niger Delta.

The presence of foreign oil companies has fuelled resentment among many residents in the impoverished region, who say the profits have enriched industry players and the government but failed to benefit them.

But many militants who claim to be fighting for the local population are considered little more than oil thieves or the puppets of corrupt politicians.

Oil theft is rife in the region. The stolen oil is sold on the black market and the profits often used to buy weapons.
 

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