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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Nigerian Militants Present One of Their Nine Hostages

Associated Press
WARRI, Nigeria — Armed militants holding nine foreign oil workers hostage in Nigeria showed one of them to reporters for the first time Friday, a 68-year-old American who said he and his colleagues were being treated well.
Three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino have been missing since they were kidnapped Feb. 18 by militants who stormed a barge belonging to a U.S. oil company in the Niger Delta's Forcados estuary. The kidnappers are demanding that people in the country's south receive a greater share of their region's oil wealth.
“We're being treated quite well. Just let's hope it ends well,” said the American, who identified himself as Macon Hawkins of Texas.
Nine militants wearing black masks, military fatigues and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers brought the hostage to a group of journalists by boat in the Niger Delta. The militants reiterated demands for a third party to mediate an end to the crisis before returning the hostage to a boat, firing their weapons into the air and setting off into one of the delta's creeks.
Thursday and Friday, militants issued photos of what they said were the nine kidnapped foreigners. In an email, they also threatened more attacks on oil workers and the country's volatile oil industry. The militants released a separate statement saying the photos, which appeared slightly out of focus, were “pictures of our hostages with a section of the unit that secured their capture.”
“Oil industry workers should accept that we are going nowhere very soon and will show little mercy especially in facilities previously attacked,” the militants said. “We are continuing with our attacks on oil facilities and oil workers in the next few days. We will act without further warning.”
The barge the hostages were abducted from was owned by Houston-based oil services company Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline for oil major Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
The militants denied reports that any negotiations were taking place to secure the hostages' release.
Hostage takings have been a common occurrence in the volatile delta for years. Most of those kidnapped are released unharmed. Last month, militants held four foreigners for 19 days before releasing them unscathed.
The militants are demanding a greater share of oil wealth for their impoverished region, which has remained poor despite the large amounts of oil flowing from it. The militants say they also want to secure the release from jail of the delta's two most prominent leaders, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and former Gov. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Mr. Dokubo-Asari, who waged a struggle for autonomy for eight million Ijaws that dominate the Niger Delta for years, was jailed on treason charges in September. Mr. Alamieyeseigha was arrested recently in Nigeria after fleeing the U.K. on money laundering charges.
The militants said in the emailed statement that the hostages” release was “directly related to the release of Alamieyeseigha and Asari.” The statement added: “Politicians who don't care about how many soldiers and oil industry workers are killed as long as the oil keeps flowing.”
Separately, a Nigerian court on Friday ordered a Royal Dutch Shell joint venture to pay southern communities $1.5 billion in compensation for environmental pollution and degradation in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The payment was first ordered by the country's parliament in August 2004. The joint venture includes the Nigerian government, France's Total SA and Italy's ENI SpA.
Stuart Bruseth, Shell spokesman in London, confirmed the ruling and said he believed the company has “strong grounds to appeal.” Shell had gone to court to challenge the lawmakers' decision made in response to a petition by ethnic Ijaws.
The joint venture Shell operates produces a little under half of Nigeria's 2.5 million barrels daily of oil exports.

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