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Nigeria Militants Release 8 Oil Workers

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By WILLIAM NSOYOH
The Associated Press
Sunday, June 4, 2006; 6:19 PM

YENAGOA, Nigeria -- Nigerian militants on Sunday released eight foreign oil rig workers, who looked tired but unharmed after two days in captivity.

Police involved in negotiating the release of the six Britons, one American and one Canadian would not say whether a ransom was paid.

Two of the Britons were released before dawn, followed by the six remaining hostages later in the day. The eight met with a local governor and were handed over to a representative of Nigerian oil firm Peak Petroleum in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state.

The eight, whose names have not been released, looked tired but cheerful and said they were treated well by their kidnappers.

They were flown to the city of Lagos, and were expected to soon head home, Bayelsa state spokesman Ekiyor Welson said.

"All eight are healthy and will be allowed to go home to receive whatever care they need," Jan Peter Valheim, chief financial officer of Fred. Olsen Energy ASA, whose subsidiary operated the drilling rig for Peak Petroleum, said by telephone from Norway. "It is a relief ... We are of course very pleased by the outcome."

The workers were kidnapped Friday from the offshore platform 40 miles from Nigeria's southeastern coast by a group of unidentified militants demanding jobs and money.

Bayelsa Gov. Goodluck Jonathan accused Peak Petroleum of bringing on the crisis by failing to honor agreements with residents of Bilabiri, the village the kidnappers are believed to have come from.

"The people of Bilabiri are aggrieved that nobody from the community has been employed by the company," he said.

Company officials were not available for comment.

Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta region has been plagued by unrest for years. In recent months, armed militants have stepped up a campaign against the oil industry, blowing up pipelines and kidnapping foreign workers, cutting supply and driving up world energy prices.

The country, which normally pumps 2.5 million barrels a day, is the fifth-largest source of oil for the United States.

Residents and militants in the delta are demanding a greater share of oil revenues. They complain their region remains mired in poverty while oil companies and select government officials reap the petroleum wealth.

The Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta, the main militant group behind a wave of attacks and hostage-takings in the delta this year, has said it was not responsible for the latest kidnappings, which it called purely a moneymaking scheme.

Oil prices jumped by almost $2 a barrel Friday after the kidnappings. Although no output was affected, the news reignited concerns about the stability of supplies.

___

Associated Press writer Dulue Mbachu in Lagos and Bashir Adigun in Abuja contributed to this report.


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