Thu, Oct 05, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Nigerian rebels kidnap foreign Exxon workers

DEADLY DELTA Africa's leading oil producer was facing a new crisis after a separatist group nabbed foreign workers and called for their leader's release

AFP , LAGOS

Five foreigners working for US oil company Exxon Mobil have been kidnapped and two Nigerians killed in an attack in the volatile Niger Delta region, an industry source said yesterday.

The five, whose nationalities were unknown, were seized late on Tuesday by armed men who attacked an oil installation at Eket, in the southern state of Akwa Ibom.

The source also said two Nigerian employees of Exxon were killed.

The assailants were not immediately identified and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

But the Niger Delta has seen a resurgence of violence by separatist militants seeking local control of the country's oil resources.

On Monday, approximately 70 men attacked a site belonging to the Royal Dutch Shell company in neighboring Rivers State. Military and company sources said 14 soldiers were killed and 25 workers were kidnapped.

Nine of the workers were freed on Tuesday, and authorities in the state were negotiating with the kidnappers to obtain the release of the 16 others.

Responsibility for that attack was claimed by the Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), a group of several separatist movements.

The JRC said in a statement published by several dailies that the attack was aimed at obtaining the immediate release of Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo Asari, the imprisoned leader of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF).

In October last year Asari was charged in an Abuja Federal High Court with treason, illegal assembly and conspiracy.

The Niger Delta is home to Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry, but each of its inhabitants live on less than US$1 a day.

Nigeria, a country of 130 million people, is Africa's leading oil producer and the world's sixth biggest crude exporter with a normal daily output of 2.6 million barrels.

But attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta region have cut about a quarter of oil production since the start of the year and at least five Nigerian staff employed in the oil sector have been killed by unknown attackers.

Following an increase in the number of abductions in August, the Nigerian army launched a widespread manhunt for the kidnap gangs on the orders of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

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