Nigeria intensifies efforts to free Filipino oil workers

Nigeria intensifies efforts to free Filipino oil workers

Nigerian officials have said they were intensifying efforts to secure the release of six Filipino oil workers and a local staffer taken hostage this weekend in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

“Governor James Ibori has swung into action to secure the release of the men,” Sheddy Ozoene, the spokesman for the governor in southern Delta State where the kidnappings happened, told AFP Monday.

“The secretary to government, Ovie Omo-Agege, is now in Warri, holding consultations with community leaders on how to release the workers as soon as possible,” he said.

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo, meanwhile, told workers not to go to the west African country following the kidnappings.

“The president has ordered a temporary halt to deployments to Nigeria until the security of our nationals is guaranteed,” Arroyo’s press secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a statement Monday.

Unknown assailants took the Filipinos and Nigerian hostage on a cargo ship on Saturday in the Niger Delta, the latest in a string of kidnappings in the epicentre of Nigeria’s multi-billion-dollar oil industry.

No group has so far directly claimed responsibility for the latest attack, but a prominent separatist group in the region said Sunday that members of a local community had seized the Filipinos.

“They were taken by a community in that vicinity. The community plans to explain their reason for their abduction today,” a spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) told AFP in an e-mail message.

Ozoene, the spokesman for the Delta State governor, said the government was “already reaching out to prominent ethnic Ijaw leaders to identify the captors with a view to negotiating with them”.

“As a government, our immediate concern is to ensure the safety of the men,” he said.

The kidnapping of six Filipinos brings to nine the number of foreigners currently being held hostage in the region.

In the past eight days one Italian, five Chinese and nine South Korean hostages have been freed by their respective captors. But two Italians and one Lebanese abducted on December 7 by MEND are still held.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of kidnappings and attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta since the beginning of 2006.

Last year more than 60 foreigners, mostly oil workers, were kidnapped, and dozens of Nigerians were killed by militants and bandits.

The people of the delta complain that while their region generates 95 percent of Nigeria’s foreign currency earnings, they have little to show for this in terms of development or living standards.

Source: AFP

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