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The Washington Post: Four new abductions reported in Nigerian oil delta

By Estelle Shirbon
Reuters
Monday, July 9, 2007; 5:03 PM

ABUJA (Reuters) – Four more people have been abducted in the Niger Delta, authorities said on Monday, underscoring insecurity in Nigeria’s oil-producing region hours after a 3-year-old British girl was freed by her kidnappers.

Margaret Hill was released on Sunday night after four days in the hands of unknown ransom seekers who snatched her from the car in which she was being driven to school on July 5 in Port Harcourt, the delta’s main city.

On Monday, Britain’s Foreign Office said a Briton was among two foreign workers kidnapped on Sunday night from a production barge near Calabar in Cross River state — an area in the east of the southern delta that is usually relatively safe and peaceful. A Bulgarian foreign ministry official confirmed one of its nationals was the other worker kidnapped in the attack.

Oil major Royal Dutch Shell said one of its teams had been attacked in Rivers state in the delta on Saturday and two Nigerian workers had been taken hostage.

Shell spokesman Precious Okolobo said gunmen had attacked the workers while they were repairing the Soku-Buguma trunk line, an oil pipeline that had only just been repaired on July 2 after being sabotaged in 16 different places in 60 days.

Okolobo said the team attacked on Saturday had been repairing three new leaks. He said no output was affected because the pipeline had been sabotaged so many times that production had been diverted through another line.

Nigerian oil production is currently down by more than 20 percent because of militant attacks on oil facilities.

Supply disruptions in Nigeria, the world’s eighth-biggest oil exporter, have pushed up world oil prices and on Monday analysts cited news of the new kidnappings as one of the factors in a price spike above $76 per barrel.

NEGLECT

Oil from the delta has enriched foreign oil firms and corrupt Nigerian governments for five decades but the region has been neglected to the point that there are few basic services.

This state of affairs breeds militancy and crime. Some armed groups attack the oil industry to press their demand for “resource control” or local power over oil revenues, but numerous criminal gangs have made hostage takings a business.

The main rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said on Monday the abduction of the British toddler was unrelated to political violence and the struggle for resource control would continue.

“This criminal act against a minor was perpetrated by common thieves and even as they have released the child, I promise you their punishment is unspeakable,” said the MEND spokesman, who uses the pseudonym Jomo Gbomo.

“This incident changes nothing amongst the groups truly agitating for resource control in the Niger Delta,” he said.

Abductions of adult expatriates are so frequent in the Niger Delta that they rarely make headlines in Nigerian newspapers, but the kidnapping of Margaret Hill drew outrage from the government as well as from politically motivated armed groups.

About 200 foreigners have been snatched in the delta since the start of 2006. Most were released unharmed.

A small number of abductions in the Niger Delta are carried out by MEND and other rebel groups seeking to press their demand for resource control, but most are the work of ransom seekers.

(Additional reporting by Ani Akpan in Cross River state and Peter Graff in London)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/09/AR2007070901264.html

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