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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Nigerian Militants Separate Oil Worker Hostages

WARRI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigerian militants said on Wednesday they had separated three foreign oil workers in their captivity for strategic reasons, but did not intend to kill them.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has been holding two Americans and one Briton for almost a month since they were abducted from an oil industry barge in the mangrove-lined creeks of the Niger Delta.
The kidnapping was one of a series of militant attacks in the world's eighth largest oil exporter, which has cut supplies by almost a quarter.
“The hostages have been separated for strategic reasons and all considerations to their comfort and well-being disregarded henceforth,'' the militants said in an email.
“However…they will not be execuDiplomats say the militant group is fragmented and different factions have been giving different messages about the likelihood of release.
The militants originally seized nine employees of U.S. oil services company Willbros on February 18, but freed six on March 1.
It was the second series of kidnappings and attacks on the oil industry in two months, which analysts have linked to political instability in Nigeria before elections next year.
In last month's attacks, heavily-armed fighters bombed several oil pipelines, sabotaged production platforms and crippled one of the main tanker loading platforms, all located on the western side of the vast wetlands region.
The group has vowed another large-scale attack on oil facilities in another area of the delta, and repeated the threat on Wednesday, advising foreign workers to leave.
“We will attack the most heavily fortified installations so the Nigerian government cannot claim to have been caught unawares,'' they said.
Royal Dutch Shell has evacuated its staff from the entire western delta, cutting 455,000 barrels per day (bpd) of its own output and 100,000 bpd pumped by other companies.
Western multinationals in the eastern delta, including ExxonMobil, ENI unit Agip, Chevron and Total are on a heightened state of alert.
The February attacks took place soon after the Nigerian military used helicopter gunships to bomb gangs in the delta which they said were stealing crude oil. The militants said innocent villagers were hit.
“Expatriates around the Niger Delta are advised again to leave as we do not wish to shed innocent blood,'' the militants said in their email.
“In the event of an escalated confrontation with the Nigerian military, they and their families will be attacked without discrimination in response to the indiscriminate attack tactics commonly applied by the Nigerian Army on communities in the Niger Delta,'' they added.

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