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Nigerian militants release UK hostage
By Matthew Green, West Africa correspondent
Published: April 20 2009 10:24 | Last updated: April 20 2009 10:24

Nigerian militants have released one of two British oil workers kidnapped in the Niger Delta seven months ago.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the most prominent militant group in the oil-producing delta, said on Monday it had released Robin Barry Hughes on “compassionate grounds” late on Sunday.

Mr Hughes was held captive along with Matthew John Maguire, another Briton, who is still held by Mend. The pair were among more than 20 foreigners who were seized when their oil supply vessel was hijacked in September. Mend released the other foreigners but said it wanted to retain the Britons as “leverage.”

Previous statements from Mend suggested the group was hoping to use the Britons as bargaining chips in its campaign to persuade the government to release Henry Okah, a militant leader who is on trial on treason and gun-running charges.

Mend said in a statement that it has received word from Mr Okah in jail that he wanted Mr Hughes to be released on “compassionate grounds.” In February, Mend said one of the hostages was “very ill,” though it did not name him.

“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta can confirm that the British hostage, Mr. Robin Barry Hughes regained his freedom,” Mend said in statement emailed late on Sunday.

A spokesman for the Nigerian military confirmed the Mr Hughes had been released on Sunday and was in Port Harcourt, a major hub for the oil and gas industry.

Hundreds of foreigners and Nigerians have been kidnapped by gunmen in the Niger Delta in the past few years, many by criminal gangs seeking ransom. Most are released unharmed after a few weeks.

Mend burst into the international spotlight in early 2006 when it launched a series of tightly coordinated attacks that cut Nigeria’s oil output by almost a quarter. The group also claimed responsibility for a raid on Royal Dutch Shell’s giant offshore Bonga facility in June last year, the first attack of its kind on a deepwater production facility off Nigeria.

Sporadic attacks on pipelines and other facilities have complicated the task of oil companies seeking to restore lost production and sharply driven up industry costs in Nigeria. Africa’s biggest crude exporter has struggled to raise oil production much above 2m b/d from the roughly 2.4m b/d it was pumping prior to Mend’s campaign.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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