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Bloomberg: Six Hostages Are Released by Militant Groups in Nigeria

EXTRACT: MEND said that it was planning to stop taking hostages and begin focusing on using sabotage and bombings to cripple the oil industry.

By Julie Ziegler and Karl Maier

Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) — One Italian and five Chinese hostages being held by two different groups in Nigeria were released today amid continued violence in the nation’s oil-producing region.

Three other hostages captured on Dec. 7 by the Movement for the Emanicipation of the Niger Delta are still being held. The hostages as well as the freed Italian, Roberto Dieghi, are employees of a unit of Eni SpA, Italy’s largest oil company. A separate group released five Chinese telecommunications worker kidnapped almost two weeks ago, the Chinese foreign ministry said today.

“The release of Mr. Dieghi is an act of goodwill on our part which we hope will be reciprocated by the Nigerian government,” MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo said in the statement.

More than 150 people, about half of them expatriates, were kidnapped in the Niger Delta last year.

MEND has attacked oil installations in the Niger Delta for the past year in a campaign to cripple Africa’s biggest oil industry. Its raids forced Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s unit in Nigeria to halt output of about 500,000 barrels a day, almost a quarter of the country’s current production.

Gbomo today said MEND wasn’t negotiating the release of the remaining hostages.

“There are no discussions on-going with regards to the release of the remaining two Italians and one Lebanese still in our custody,” he said in the statement. “They are being held indefinitely as we previously indicated.”

Armed Raid

The Chinese employees were at home on Jan. 5 when they were taken by armed men, Xinhua said. The workers lived in a village about 35 kilometers away from the southern city of Port Harcourt.

Dieghi told his family by phone that he is well, the Foreign Ministry in Rome said in an e-mailed statement. Contacts are continuing, in cooperation with Eni and other Italian institutions and Nigerian authorities, for the release of the three remaining hostages, the ministry said.

The rebel group wants the government to cede control of the oil industry to the Niger delta states where the crude is pumped. It’s also demanded the release of Mujahid Dokubu Asari, a militia leader jailed on charges of treason, and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a former governor of Bayelsa state who was impeached and arrested on money-laundering charges.

MEND said that it was planning to stop taking hostages and begin focusing on using sabotage and bombings to cripple the oil industry.

The group will continue fighting “until we succeed in driving out the oil companies from the delta and permanently halting Nigerian exports to the world oil market,” Gbomo said. “The only alternative to our armed campaign against the oil industry is the restoration of the stolen wealth of the Niger delta people to its rightful owners.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Ziegler in Lagos [email protected]

Last Updated: January 18, 2007 06:34 EST

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