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Financial Times: Nigerian militants free kidnapped oil workers

By Dino Mahtani in Lagos
Published: January 31 2006 02:00
Nigerian ethnic militants released four expatriate oil workers yesterday, ending a 19-day hostage crisis amid renewed threats on oil facilities in the world's eighth largest exporter.
The hostages were abducted from an offshore oilfield in the turbulent Niger Delta region among a wave of attacks since December that have killed dozens of people and forced Royal Dutch Shell to cut Nigerian output by a tenth.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a group that claims responsibility for the kidnapping of the American, British, Bulgarian and Honduran Shell contractors, said it released the hostages on “humanitarian grounds”. An e-mail believed to be from a representative of MEND said the group would nonetheless ensure a “February target of a 30 per cent reduction in Nigeria's export capacity”.
Shell, Nigeria's largest producer, said yesterday that 106,000 barrels per day of production feeding its Forcados export terminal was still cut, after an explosion on a large export pipeline this month. Production at Shell's 115,000 bpd EA field, where the hostages were taken, resumed on Saturday but officials could not confirm when it would reach full capacity. The company said a force majeure was still in effect.
Shell has withdrawn about 500 workers from its facilities in the delta since this month's attacks, and oil unions have also threatened to withdraw their staff if security is not improved.
Industry and security officials say Nigerian security forces do not have the capability to guarantee the complete safety of the network of pipelines, oilfields and several hundred oil wells dotted around the swamps and creeks of the Niger Delta, where most of Nigeria's oil is produced.
“In any case, there needs to be a political solution to the Niger Delta crisis,” said Dimieari Von Kemedi, a political and security analyst.
MEND claims it is fighting for the rights of the Ijaw, the most populous tribe in the delta. Ijaw community leaders and militants say the Nigerian state has marginalised their people in spite of the huge oil wealth pumped from their tribal lands.
Heightened political tensions across Nigeria in the run-up to elections in 2007 are likely to feed into the crisis in the delta, where hundreds of people die in ethnic fighting, political violence and street crime each year.
An Ijaw uprising ahead of elections in 2003 forced Nigeria to cut 40 per cent of its production.

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