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AFX News Limited: Nigerian armed group releases 12 foreign hostages

06.12.07, 3:18 AM ET

LAGOS (Thomson Financial) – An armed group fighting for control of oil resources in the Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria has released 12 foreign workers and one Nigerian it had been holding hostage, police said today.

‘Twelve foreigners and one Nigerian were handed over last night (Monday). The governor went to release them himself and brought them to Yenagoa,’ Julian Opaleke, the police chief of the southern Bayelsa state, told AFP.

Officials gave the nationalities of the foreigners released as three Americans, five Britons, two Indians, a Filipino and a South African.

They were shown briefly to local journalists but none of them was identified by name.

There was no immediate confirmation of the nationalities from the embassies concerned.

The armed group had said earlier Monday in a statement it would release all foreign hostages in its custody.

The statement, purportedly from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), was signed by Godswill Tamuno and Alaebi Oyinye.

Tamuno’s group calls itself MEND. Some industry sources say it is a splinter group from the well-known MEND proper whilst others say it is part of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC).

MEND proper, in a statement Monday, again dissociated itself from Tamuno’s group.

Both groups are ethnic Ijaw guerrilla organisations battling for regional control of southern Nigeria’s vast oil resources, and both have sometimes resorted to kidnapping foreign oil workers.

Ahead of the release the group said it is seeking the immediate and unconditional release of two Ijaw leaders; separatist firebrand Mujahid Asari Dokubo, and former Bayelsa state governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

It said it was releasing the men for humanitarian reasons but vowed ‘further hostilities in the region’ if ‘the new government of Umaru Yar’Adua reneges like his predecessor’ on its promises to the armed groups of the region.

President Yar’Adua became president last month after an election marred by accusations of widespread fraud and violence.

The kidnappers also said oil company Shell ‘should immediately pay the aborigines of Bayelsa State their 1.5 bln usd as compensation for environmental degradation and pollutions’.

And it further demanded ‘the immediate and unconditional demilitarisation of Ijaw Land and the Niger Delta territory’.

Industry sources said Tamuno is one of the commanders who was holding 24 Filipino seamen hostage earlier this year.

With the release of the twelve, some two dozen foreign hostages are still thought to remain in captivity in southern Nigeria.

Since the start of 2006, when kidnappings really took off in the region, some 200 expatriates have been seized. Most have been released unharmed after a few days or a few weeks.

The kidnappers are a mixture of militant groups with political agendas, disgruntled local communities and criminal gangs who just want to make money.

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