FG may free three hostages by force

  • Tuesday, March 07, 2006 - Sola Adebayo, Warri
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The Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta has deployed four submarines in the Delta State riverside.

The deployment is ostensibly in preparation for a military operation to free the three remaining hostages held by militants since February 18.

Investigations revealed that the submarines are stationed at Ogulagha, in Burutu Local Government Area of the state.

Our correspondent learnt that additional military hardware was being deployed in JTF’s headquarters at 93 Battalion, Effurun, on Monday, preparatory to a decisive action against the militants.

It was further learnt that the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, ordered the action because of the recalcitrant posture of the militants.

Six out of nine expatriate oil workers seized by the militants were released on Wednesday, last week, after 11 days in captivity.

Those still being held are Coydy Oswalt and Rospel Spell (Americans), as well as John Hudspith (Briton).

The militants through an Ijaw group, the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities that facilitated the release of the six hostages, gave 10 conditions to the Federal Government before the remaining hostages could be released.

But our correspondent gathered that the Presidency has dismissed the militants’ demands.

A source at the JTF headquarters, on Monday, said troops had been put on standby.

Investigation by our correspondent revealed that the JTF, code-named ‘Operation Restore Hope,’ has asked all oil multinationals and service companies to withdraw from the riverside areas.

“From Okerenkoko to Yokri and Obotobo I & II, we (oil workers) have pulled out,” said an oil worker who craved anonymity.

Our correspondent however learnt that the Federal Government asked the JTF to shelve the military operation until next week.

A source in the task force said, “We (JTF) are not striking immediately, we are only positioning ourselves for the task ahead by mobilising troops and equipment. We may not strike unless the hostages are not freed by next week.”

Meanwhile, the JTF top brass met at the task force’s headquarters on Monday, apparently to put finishing touches to the operation.

The Commander of JTF, Brig. Gen. Elias Zamani, presided over the meeting which was also attended by his deputy, Brig. Gen. Mike Okedokun; the Chief of Staff of JTF, Navy Capt. Inusa; the Commanding Officer of NNS Delta, Warri Naval Base, Navy Capt. Mufutau Ajibade; his 93 Battalion counterpart, Lt–Col. Adamu Jalingo; the Head of the State Security Service Task Group, Mr. Sam Kalama; and heads of the Air Force and Nigeria Police units.

Zamani, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, said a military operation to free the hostages would only be considered as a last option.

THE PUNCH, Tuesday March 07, 2006

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