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Nigeria kidnappers demand $1.5bn and control of oil

Posted by By Simon Freeman and agencies on 2006/01/18 | Views: 539 |

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Nigeria kidnappers demand $1.5bn and control of oil


Separatist rebels holding four foreign oil workers in Nigeria have demanded a $1.5 billion ransom, the release of tribal prisoners and complete control of the Delta's oil wealth in return for the hostages.

Separatist rebels holding four foreign oil workers in Nigeria have demanded a $1.5 billion ransom, the release of tribal prisoners and complete control of the Delta's oil wealth in return for the hostages.

Nigel Watson-Clark, a former Royal Marine from Bristol who was kidnapped at gunpoint six days ago, read out the ultimatum in an emotional phone call to a journalist from the Reuters news agency.

He said that the four men were being treated well but warned against any rescue attempt. The Government has been given 48 hours to comply.

Mr Watson-Clark, a father-of-four, was taken hostage with three other men - an American, a Bulgarian and a Honduran - from a support vessel, as rebel militia launched an assault on Shell oil facilities in the swampy delta region where they worked as security guards.

The heavily-armed kidnappers, from the previously unknown Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), have mounted a series of attacks on oil pipelines, platforms and workers over the past three weeks which yesterday caused Royal Dutch Shell to evacuate 330 workers from three remote flowstations.

The hostages are being held at an unknown location thought to be near Bomadi Creek deep in the delta, a patchwork of thick mangrove swamps ruled by warlords and their gangs.

Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's President, today held a series of emergency meetings during which he ordered political and military leaders to resolve the crisis and free the hostages. Guerilla groups, meanwhile, threatened further attacks.

Mr Watson-Clark read the list of demands from a written statement. The group demands local control of the Niger Delta’s oil wealth, payment of $1.5 billion by Royal Dutch Shell to the Bayelsa state government to compansate for pollution, and the release of three men including Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, an Ijaw warlord who appeared briefly in court today as his trial on treason charges was adjourned until March 14.

Mr Watson-Clark said: "If the Nigerian government does not meet these demands in 48 hours, whatever happens is in their own doing."

The other hostages also read out short statements to the Reuters correspondent.

"I’d like to contact my family and let them know that I am alright and everything with us is good," said a man who identified himself as Harry Ebanks from Honduras. "The only thing... the environment is not good with us because there is a lot of mosquitoes and it is dangerous for us."

A man identifying himself as Patrick Landry, a US citizen, said: "No military intervention is a must. This climate in the conditions we’re in is not conducive to us, especially as I am an older man and my health is not good."

He added: "I’d like y’all to contact my family and let them know that I’m alright, these people are treating me good, but the climate is not what it should be."

Violence against oil workers is frequent in the Niger Delta, which accounts for almost all of Nigeria’s 2.4 million barrels a day output and where an estimated 20 million people live in abject poverty alongside the multibillion-dollar industry.

Shell's partial evacuation of the flowstations yesterday followed a speedboat attack on Sunday on one of its pumping stations off the port of Warri which left at least four workers and 15 soldiers dead.

Nigeria security forces fought pitched battles with dozens of bandana-wearing youths, armed with AK47s, who poured off three speedboats and fought their way on to the Benisede flow station off the coast of Bayelsa, one of nine states in the impoverished Delta region..

Shell has said that it has no current plans to withdraw workers from other plants but the prospect of such a withdrawal caused oil prices, already rising over the West’s nuclear stand-off with Iran, to surge and has increased pressure on President Obasanjo’s government to crack down on the separatist militants.

MEND said after last week’s kidnapping that all oil workers should leave the area.

"It must be clear that the Nigerian Government cannot protect your workers or assets. Leave our land now while you can or die in it," the group said in an e-mail statement. Our aim is to totally destroy the capacity of the Nigerian Government to export oil."

In Warri, the nearest city to the Benisede flow station, residents said they were worried a military counter-attack would be bloody and the city could fall back into the chaos of 2003. Fighting then left hundreds dead and forced Shell, American Chevron and other oil majors temporarily to close down the equivalent of half the daily output from Africa’s biggest oil producer.

"I hope the military don’t over-react and start burning villages again. They should sort out this problem and free the hostages through dialogue," Ijaw boatman Henry Imhanlenjay told AFP.

Human rights activist Joseph Evah, who runs the Ijaw Monitoring Group, said: "The Niger Delta youth are uncontrollable because the brains and hands are idle. They should bring industry and employment."


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