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Hope Rises For Hostages

Posted by BY ABRAHAM OGBODO on 2006/01/29 | Views: 270 |

Hope Rises For Hostages


FOUR expatriate oil workers held hostage since January 12 by militants in the Niger Delta may regain freedom today following a consensus of sorts reached between a team of government negotiators and the kidnappers.

FOUR expatriate oil workers held hostage since January 12 by militants in the Niger Delta may regain freedom today following a consensus of sorts reached between a team of government negotiators and the kidnappers.

However, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) doubts the anticipated freedom for the captives, a British, a Honduran, an American and a Bulgarian.

Secretary-General of the IYC, Mr. Miabiye Kurumiema, noted that the prospect of the four hostages regaining their freedom even this week was misplaced, saying, "nothing on ground points at that fact."

But The Guardian learnt that all conditions given by the militants were put on the table even as President Obasanjo said at the World Economic Summit in Switzerland last week that the Federal Government would not enter into any form of deal with the hostage takers.

A source deeply involved in the negotiations disclosed at the weekend that the release would be effected while the larger question of the criminal neglect of the Niger Delta region raised by the militants would be "promptly addressed."

In the wake of the abduction, the kidnappers, who claim to be part of an underground group called Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta ((MEND), had raised three main conditions, which must be met before the four hostages could be released.

These are the release of the incarcerated leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Dokubo-Asari and former Bayelsa State governor; Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and the payment of about $1.5 billion compensation to oil and gas bearing communities in the region.

For now, only one of the conditions - the release of Dokubo-Asari - sounds palatable and the militants have been purportedly told this by the 10-man negotiating team set up by the Federal Government.

Indeed, the kidnappers were reportedly specifically asked by a top Federal Government official of Bayelsa State origin to drop the clause on Alamieyeseigha.

"I told them that the removal of Alamieyeseigha was through the Constitution and the State House of Assembly and reversing it cannot come through a mere declaration by even the President," the source confided in The Guardian.

Meanwhile, as Dokubo-Asari headed for the Appeal Court last week in search of freedom, there were indications that government might use the law court to meet the kidnappers demands halfway.

Investigations revealed that the hostages would have regained freedom long before now but for the composition of the negotiating team.

The militant were said to have objected to Governor Goodluck Jonathan being made the head of negotiating team, saying the erstwhile deputy governor was part of the problem, they, the militants, are fighting to solve.

As was gathered at the weekend, the awaited breakthrough in the hostage saga is not so much a consequence of the bargaining wits of the Jonathan-headed team of negotiators.

Others, including the Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori and top officials of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) had created parallel channels through which they reached the militants and talked them into softening their position.

Yet, another source disclosed that the Jonathan team had adopted the wrong approach of dealing with the militants, described by insiders as "highly educated and sophisticated," as hungry boys who could be easily won over through cash inducement.

Said the source: "The issue are deeper than they seem. The people involved are well-educated and sophisticated. They are not after monetary gains. They were even able to block communication signals beamed at their direction. That is why tracking them to a location without their express approval has been difficult."

As government goes into yet another truce with an armed group in the Niger Delta, IYC's secretary-general, Kurumiema has urged government to exhibit sincerity in the ongoing efforts. He said the crisis is a reaction to the non-implementation of an earlier deal government reached with Dokubo-Asari in 2004.

Kurumiema, who was part of the 2004 peace talks in Abuja, recalled that the understanding reached then was for Dokubo-Asari, who came out fully armed against the establishment, to disarm to enable the Federal Government to attend to the issue of inadequate development in the Niger Delta.

Said he: "But while Dokubo-Asari disarmed as agreed, the Federal Government reneged on its promise to transform the region."

The Ijaw youth scribe described ongoing efforts to set free the foreigners as "unstructured" and "a fire brigade to problems that are much more fundamental."

He noted that the prospect of the four hostages regaining their freedom even this week was misplaced, saying, "nothing on ground points at that fact."

He said unlike the Asari-Presidency peace deal in September 2004, the IYC is not involved in the ongoing discussions with the militants.

"We were not invited and we are not part of it," he said, adding, "we are watching the situation from the sidelines."

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.