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Militants holding nine foreign hostages said Wednesday they have no plans to release their captives soon and scoffed at Nigerian government attempts to secure their release.
WARRI, Nigeria (AP)--Militants holding nine foreign hostages said Wednesday they have no plans to release their captives soon and scoffed at Nigerian government attempts to secure their release.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, accused the government of a "time wasting venture" in searching for a high-level negotiation team to end the hostage crisis that began Saturday.
"We have no immediate intention of setting these guys free," a spokesperson for the group said in an e-mail to The AP.
Government officials weren't immediately available for comment.
The militants said Tuesday negotiations hadn't yet been arranged for the release of the three U.S. citizens, two Egyptians, two Thais, one U.K. citizen and one Filipino seized from a barge belonging to Houston-based oil services company Willbros, which was laying pipeline for Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB) (RDSB.LN).
Recent attacks by the militant group on oil facilities in Africa's largest producer of crude has cut production by nearly 20% and sent prices soaring on international markets.
The militants say they plan to widen their campaign across the vast region of swamps and creeks, where people remain deeply impoverished despite the great oil riches being pumped from beneath them.
Over the weekend, militants blasted oil and gas pipelines and sabotaged a key oil loading terminal belonging to Shell. That and an earlier attack has forced the company to halt the flow of about 455,000 barrels-a-day, about one-fifth of daily output.
Violence and sabotage of oil operations have been common in the oil-rich Niger Delta for the past 15 years amid demands by the region's impoverished communities for a greater share of the oil revenue flowing from their land.
Nigeria is Africa's leading oil exporter and the U.S.' fifth-largest supplier, usually exporting 2.5 million barrels daily.
Hostage takings are also common in the volatile delta, with most captives released unharmed. Last month, the militants held four foreigners for 19 days before releasing them unscathed.
The militants say their key aims are winning the release of the delta's two most prominent leaders, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Dokubo-Asari, who waged a struggle for autonomy for 8 million Ijaws that dominate the Niger delta for years, was jailed on treason charges in September. Alamieyeseigha was arrested recently in Nigeria after fleeing the U.K. on money laundering charges.
Militants are also demanding Shell pay local communities $1.5 billion to compensate for environmental pollution, which Shell has rejected.
The Nigerian government says the militants are little more than criminal gangs.
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