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AP Worldstream: 4 American hostages released in southern Nigeria

Published: May 31, 2007

Four American oil worker hostages seized weeks ago in Nigeria’s restive southern oil heartland were publicly handed over to authorities, as protesters cut exports from Africa’s top petroleum producer.

As journalists looked on Wednesday, a judge who mediated in the dispute escorted the four Chevron Corp subcontractors taken May 9 to the governor’s offices in southern Rivers State where they were handed over to authorities.

U.S. embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.

Elsewhere, protesters besieged a major pipeline control center feeding a Royal Dutch Shell PLC oil export terminal in Nigeria, forcing the company to suspend exports of 150,000 barrels of crude oil a day, a company official said Wednesday.

Protesters from K-Dere in the Ogoni district of Nigeria’s southern oil region invaded the company’s Bomu Manifold on Monday, tampering with some pipeline equipment and forcing the shutdown of the facility, Shell spokesman Precious Okolobo said.

“We had to defer export of 150,000 barrels per day,” said Okolobo.

It was the second disruption of crude supply on the pipeline, which sends crude from onshore facilities around the oil industry center of Port Harcourt to Shell’s Bonny oil export terminal.

Growing lawlessness, including armed attacks, in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta that accounts for nearly all of Nigeria’s oil have cut about a quarter of the normal exports of Africa’s leading oil producer. Most inhabitants of the impoverished region of swamps, creeks and mangrove forests feel cheated out of the oil produced on their land and want an increased share of oil revenue.

Some 200 foreign workers have been kidnapped _ most quickly released for ransom _ since armed militants stepped up their attacks against the oil companies and government in late 2005. Some 20 foreign hostages remain in captivity.

President Umaru Yar’Adua used his inaugural address Tuesday to appeal for an immediate end to violence in Nigeria’s oil heartland, and the largest militant group said it would consider the overture.

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