NIGERIA: Delta militants free remaining foreign hostages, vow fresh attacks
Photograph distributed by MEND militants upon taking the hostages
Warri, 27 March 2006 (IRIN) - Armed militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta on Monday freed three remaining foreign hostages held captive for five weeks, but vowed to continue attacks on oil installations.
The hostages, two Americans and one Briton, were released to local leaders of the main ethnic Ijaw group on Monday morning and handed over to the Delta state governor James Ibori at dawn, the governor’s spokesman said.
“The community leaders brought them to us and we’re happy they’ve been freed,” said Abel Oshevire. The three oil workers, Cody Oswalt and Russell Spell from the US and Briton John Hudspith, appeared in good health, the official said.
The three were among nine employees of US oil services company Willbros Inc. kidnapped when militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) on 18 February raided a barge run by the firm. Willbros was working on a contract for oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.
While six of the hostages were freed 11 days later on 1 March, the militants kept the remaining three, they said, in order to draw the attention of the United States and Britain to their demands.
MEND claims to be fighting for the interests of the impoverished inhabitants of the Niger Delta, where most of the oil that is the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy is produced. Many Niger Delta residents, who have no electricity or running water, feel cheated out of the oil wealth by Western oil companies and the government of Nigeria, the world’s eighth largest crude producer.
The militants also want the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders detained by President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government. Militia leader Moujahid Dokubo-Asari is facing treason charges while Diepreye Alamieyeseigha is facing corruption charges. But the militants say the two are being persecuted for pressing for local control of oil resources.
MEND has threatened to continue attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta, where such unrest in the past has cut Nigeria’s daily oil exports of 2.5 million barrels by more than 20 percent and contributed to international oil prices jumping to over US $60 per barrel. Attacks have also reduced national power generation by more than 25 percent, shutting off gas supplies to three major power stations and worsening power cuts across Nigeria.
“The release of the hostages is not an indication of a cessation of our attacks against the oil industry and its workers,” MEND said in a statement emailed to reporters.