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Daily Telegraph: Nigerian militia tells British oilmen to get out warn 'rapist' oil workers

By Daniel Balint-Kurti in Warri
(Filed: 03/03/2006)
A Nigerian militia group behind a wave of kidnappings and attacks on oil facilities has warned British and American oil workers to pull out of their region, saying that they will treat them “as criminals and rapists”.
Dressed in camouflage flak jackets and black balaclavas, the militia issued the warning to a group of foreign journalists in the middle of the Escravos River in the Niger delta, where most of Nigeria's crude is produced.
The recent attacks by the newly emerged Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) have threatened global oil supplies and pushed prices up since January. A fifth of Nigeria's oil remains cut off by the attacks.
After Mend issued a statement on Wednesday saying it was planning “one huge crippling blow to the Nigerian oil industry”, oil prices climbed 56 cents to $62.35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Opec member Nigeria is the world's eighth largest oil exporter and the fifth largest supplier of crude to America.
Sitting in the middle of one of three boatloads of ethnic Ijaw militiamen was Macon Hawkins, an oil worker subcontracted to Shell who was kidnapped on Feb 18.
After holding an impromptu press conference, the gunmen – who would not give their names – released Mr Hawkins to the journalists, who brought him back to the nearby city of Warri.
Mr Hawkins, carrying medicine to treat his diabetes and high blood pressure in a plastic bag, kissed the dusty ground when he arrived at Warri's port. He was driven away by American embassy officials.
Five other hostages from Thailand, the Philippines and Egypt were released by militants shortly afterwards, but two more Americans and a Briton, John Hudspith, are still being held.
One of the militiamen said the remaining hostages could be freed “within the next 24 hours” if the army withdraws troops from the Niger delta, which seems improbable.
The group has also demanded the release of two Ijaw leaders: prominent militia leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, jailed since September on treason charges, and former southern governor Diepreye Alamieseyeigha, who was arrested in Nigeria after jumping bail in Britain where he was indicted for money laundering.

Alamieyeseigha, who reportedly escaped Britain dressed as a woman, faces possible extradition back to the UK. Underlying the violence in the delta, which is the size of Scotland, is a feeling among local communities that the oil riches flowing from their land enrich a corrupt political elite and multinationals, while they live without even basic public services.

The health system has collapsed, rivers and creeks are full of oil slicks and environmental groups say towering gas flares cause acid rain. Villagers complain that oil pollution has killed off fish and contaminated their drinking water.
Mend accuses the military of launching bombing raids on Ijaw villages. Villagers in the area support their claims, saying several people were killed.
In Ogbodubogbo village, local fisherman John Bull Sunday said he fled into the surrounding forest when two helicopters opened fire.
Four people were killed in the raid on that village, including his four-year-old daughter, he said, standing next to what residents said were craters from bombs dropped by the helicopters. Shrapnel was scattered around the scene.
The army says it bombed ships found to be stealing oil from pipelines and did not attack civilians.
The three boatloads of militiamen who released Hawkins were holding belt-fed machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Western diplomats say their discipline and equipment indicate they are a bigger threat to the strategic oil-producing region than any other armed group yet to emerge there.
The way they hold their rifles, with their fingers placed away from the trigger, and the use of headphones for noise-protection by some fighters, indicate they have been given professional military training, say observers.

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