4 Foreigners Freed After Being Abducted in Nigeria

By: Jon Gambrell & Ufford Wilson - AP Writers
By: Jon Gambrell & Ufford Wilson - AP Writers

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - Militants on Monday released four foreign contractors who had been kidnapped last week from the Niger Delta, the first such workers seized from the unstable oil-rich region in months.

Local police spokeswoman Rita Abbey said the men - three Britons and one Columbian - would be interviewed by detectives trying to determine who kidnapped them. Abbey previously said the kidnappers asked for nearly $2 million for the men's release, but declined to say Monday whether Royal Dutch Shell PLC or the contractor they worked for had paid a ransom.

"Nobody was injured," Abbey said. "All of them are hale and hardy."

The men were kidnapped after what appeared to be a planned ambush on Jan. 12 as their bus was headed for a power plant operated by Shell's Nigerian subsidiary. An ensuing gunfight left one police officer traveling with the workers dead and another man injured.

The men's company, NetcoDietsmann, could not be immediately reached for comment. A Shell spokeswoman declined to comment about
the men's release.

Abbey said police had yet to identify who was responsible for the kidnapping, but said officers had one person of interest they wanted to find. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main militant group in the region, previously denied taking part in the kidnapping.

Militants in the Niger Delta have attacked pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company employees and fought government troops since January 2006. They demand that the federal government send more oil-industry funds to Nigeria's southern region, which remains poor despite five decades of oil production.

That violence has cut Nigeria's oil production by about 1 million barrels a day, allowing Angola to surge ahead as Africa's top oil producer. However, a proposed amnesty deal for militants quelled violence in recent months, though some of the former fighters are becoming upset with the government's slow pace in finalizing the deal.

In recent weeks, soldiers shot two contract workers to death at an under-construction Chevron Corp. gas project. Days later, militants attacked a pipeline run by Chevron's Nigerian subsidiary, cutting oil production.

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