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« Militants free 9 Chinese oil workers in Nigeria | Main | Oil workers targeted as Nigeria violence grows »

February 05, 2007

Nigeria confirms the release of nine Chinese workers by Joel Olatunde Agoi

LAGOS (AFP) - Nine Chinese oil workers kidnapped last month in the restive southern Nigerian state of Bayelsa, have been freed, a senior government official has told AFP.

Sun Feb 4, 5:39 AM ET

"The men were released unhurt early this morning to the government and they have been handed over to their company," Bayelsa government secretary Godknows Boladei Igali said Sunday.

The Chinese foreign ministry had earlier announced their release.

"After 11 days of complex efforts, the nine Chinese employees who had been kidnapped were freed safe and well at 6:30 am Beijing time," (2230 GMT Saturday)," said a statement posted on the ministry's website.

"We thank the Nigerian government and other concerned parties who lent their aid," it added.

Igali, who headed the Bayelsa government team that negotiated the release of the hostages, neither gave details of the deal nor the group responsible for the abduction.

He did not also say if ransoms were paid to secure the freedom of the Chinese who were seized from the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) on January 25 and taken to an unkown location.

The unidentified gunmen also raided the office and staff living quarters of the men and took an unspecified amount of cash, police and industry officials there said.

It was the second time in January that Chinese working in Africa's biggest oil-producing country had been seized.

Five Chinese telecoms workers were kidnapped on January 5. They were freed on January 17 and have since returned home.

Beijing has been aggressively courting African countries such as Nigeria, which is the continent's biggest oil producer, in an effort to deepen economic ties, and President Hu Jintao is currently in the middle of an eight-nation African tour.

Many of the abductions of foreign workers are blamed on groups campaigning for a larger share in oil revenues.

Last year separatists in the oil-rich Niger Delta region kidnapped more than 60 foreigners, mostly in the oil sector, as well as killing 37 Nigerian soldiers and dozens of local oil workers.

Two Italians and one Lebanese have been held since December 7 by the region's most high profile separatist group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

Twenty four Filipinos seized on a cargo vessel and an American and a Briton abducted from their car in the region's oil capital Port Harcourt are also still missing.

Posted by Publisher at February 5, 2007 02:33 PM


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