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BBC Monitoring Service: Nigeria: Militants Free Filipino Hostages; Governor Hands Over Captives to Envoy

Published: Feb 14, 2007

Text of report by Nigerian newspaper The Guardian website on 14 February

Report by Chido Okafor: “Militants Free 24 Filipino Hostages”

Twenty-four Filipino hostages breathed the air of freedom yesterday after over a month in the custody of militants claiming to be part of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

According to the militants, the hostages were released on “humanitarian ground” due to the intervention of Ijaw leaders and the Delta State government.

The hostages were handed over to the Secretary to the Delta State Government (SSG), Mr Ovie Omo-Agege, in Asaba yesterday.

Meanwhile, all the hostages were at about 4.05 p.m. handed over by Delta State Governor, James Ibori, to the Philippines Ambassador to Nigeria, Masanugar Unpa.

Ibori personally handed over the hostages to the Ambassador at a quiet area inside the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) yard in Warri, beside the vessel, Baco Liner, from which the militants took the hostages.

The governor apologised to the hostages on behalf of President Olusegun Obasanjo for the agony they had gone through in the creeks in the past one month.

Ibori said: “Ambassador, it is my pleasure to turn your men over to you. I want to apologise on behalf of the good people of Delta State on the suffering they have been through. We hope it won’t happen again.

“President Obasanjo is eager to solve the problems of the Niger Delta; he has exercised lot of patience on the issue. I have the President’s words to apologise to you. I pray there will be no repeat of this action,” Ibori said.

The Philippines Ambassador, who after counting the hostages and confirming they were all released, expressed appreciation to Ibori for all his effort in securing the release of the hostages. He said: “I thank the President and Governor Ibori for the release of our people. The family of the crew will be happy about their release.”

Unpa said the action would not sour the relationship between Nigeria and the Philippines, stressing that both countries would continue to cooperate.

The Philippine Ambassador later led the hostages into their Baco Liner ship and went into the ship to have discussions with them.

But in a statement yesterday sent via e-mail to some journalists by the hostage-takers, it explained what led to the kidnap of the Filipinos and the Baco Liner ship conveying them, saying it was carrying explosives.

The statement, signed by Tamuno Godswill and Oyinye Alaebi stated: “On the 20th January, 2007, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) intercepted a cargo ship (Baco Liner 2) suspected to have been conveying arms and ammunition imported by top politicians in the country to destabilise the 2007 general elections in the region. Ordinarily, the Movement would have alerted the Nigerian security agency but decided to embark on this action, because the Movement has lost confidence in the Nigerian security agents in the region.

“After thorough search, MEND discovered several containers of explosives concealed in other consignments in the cargo ship.

“However, with the intervention of the Delta State government and Ijaw elders, today the 13th day of February, 2007, MEND is releasing the 24 Filipinos and the cargo ship (Baco Liner 2) to the Secretary to the Delta State Government (SSG), Bar. Ovie Omo-Agege, on humanitarian ground without ransom from any quarters.”

The militant group that claims to be MEND had at least twice since the 24 Filipinos were kidnapped, denounced the motive behind the action and the actors, which MEND’s spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said were frauds fronting for some Delta State Ijaw leaders.

The group however vowed to carry out more kidnap operations aimed at destabilising oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta if the Federal Government again fails to meet the following demands:

That Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), be released immediately from detention without any condition;

That Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha be unconditionally released, stressing that if the Federal Government will not probe governors like James Ibori of Delta State and Peter Odili of Rivers State for the alleged criminal mismanagement of over N600 billion that have accrued to their resp ective states from 1999 to date, then the continued detention of Alamieyeseigha is unjustified;

That the Federal Government should immediately demilitarise the Niger Delta to avert imminent genocide against the people of the region; and

That Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) should immediately pay the indigenes of Bayelsa State the $1.5 billion compensation awarded by a Port Harcourt Federal High Court. This payment will open the way for an hitch-free re-entry of the Anglo-Dutch firm to its abandoned facilities in the region.

The militants said they were keenly watching the political horizon as the 2007 election draws nearer and warned the Federal Government to conduct a free and fair election.

“For the people to be able to vote for candidates of their choice to prudently manage the resources of the Niger Delta for speedy development of the region, the Movement rejects the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) guber flag-bearers for Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states.”

The body regretted holding fellow humans (the Filipinos on board the cargo ship) against their will, but said they were mercenaries used in sabotaging the agitation of the Niger Delta region.

They urged the Nigerian government to address problems facing the Niger Delta people and called on Britain and the United States (US) to actualise their commitment towards resolving the Niger Delta problem as they both promised during the February to March 2006 hostage saga, for a lasting peace in the region.

A Cable News Network (CNN) documentary aired last week Thursday showed the terrified Filipinos being taunted by some masked gun-trotting militants. The report however sparked controversy.

Minister of Information, Frank Nweke (Jr.), had slammed the CNN report as a contrived show of some paid criminals.

MEND also denounced the CNN documentary and its correspondent, saying it (MEND) refused to grant filming show to the media.

But CNN and the correspondent flatly denied the minister’s charge. In a written statement, CNN said it did not pay for any part of the report, nor does the network pay for interviews.

The only money that changed hands was about $700, the standard rental for a motor-boat and captain and about $150 per day for three days, the fee to an area freelance journalist for his help in reporting and translation.

In a related development, the abductors of two Italians and a Lebanese on Monday said they would not consider releasing them until after the April elections.

“We do not foresee the release of the Italians before this government leaves office (in May),” a spokesman for the militants said in an e-mail message to Agence France Presse (AFP).

“There are no more negotiations ongoing towards the release of the hostages,” the spokesman for the MEND said.

“We are under pressure from many quarters. We owe allegiance to no one but the people of the Niger Delta,” he said.

But the Federal Government’s chief negotiator, Boladei Igali, denied any breakdown in talks with MEND over the release of the three hostages.

“We are in discussion. We are in contact, we are talking. We have gone very far in discussion and we have some hope in sight,” he told AFP.

The three oil workers were kidnapped in the volatile Niger Delta on December 7, last year.

Also, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Establishments, Senator Felix Ibru, has observed that the crisis in the Niger Delta will be resolved only if the root cause is correctly diagnosed and tackled.

He made this known in an interview with The Guardian in Uyo at the second National and State Assembly Service Commission Conference held at Ibom Hall.

Ibru said all hands are on deck without doubt but urged various bodies responsible for looking about the people not to relent in their effort to end the unfortunate situation.

Source: The Guardian website, Lagos, in English 14 Feb 07

BBC Monitoring

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