- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

WARRI, Nigeria — Militants demanding control of revenue from Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta released their last foreign hostages — two Americans and a Briton — yesterday, but the group threatened to continue attacks on oil installations.

Abel Oshevire, spokesman for the southern delta state government, said Americans Cody Oswalt and Russell Spell and Briton John Hudspith were released just before dawn after more than five weeks in captivity.

“They are here with us now and are all in good health,” Mr. Oshevire said.

The militants warned that the release of the hostages did not mean an end to attacks.

“The keeping of hostages is a distraction to us,” the group said in e-mail to the Associated Press.

The militants, responsible for a wave of recent attacks in southern Nigeria, took nine foreign oil workers hostage Feb. 18 from a barge owned by Willbros Group Inc., the Houston-based oil services company that was laying a pipeline in the delta for Royal Dutch Shell.

The hostages included three Americans.

The group released six captives, including Macon Hawkins of Kosciusko, Texas, after 12 days.

The last three hostages could be seen from a distance as they greeted officials yesterday, but the freed men did not address reporters.

The militants have targeted the oil industry in the world’s eighth-largest producer of crude and fifth-largest supplier to the United States, blowing up oil installations and cutting production by 20 percent.

Crude-oil prices slipped under $64 a barrel yesterday after the release of the hostages eased concerns about supplies.

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s office welcomed the release and called on the militants to “choose the path of dialogue and due process in resolving problems instead of” resorting to violence.

In a statement, the group said it had better uses for what it said were the 800 fighters needed to take care of the hostages — namely more attacks on oil facilities.

Since the attacks began, Royal Dutch Shell has closed half its oil fields and one of its two main loading terminals.

The e-mail to AP said the hostages were released at the request of local communities who had welcomed the militants after the Nigerian military launched attacks on delta communities accused of stealing oil. The military has withdrawn, and the commander who ordered the assaults has left the area.

The group also said the government had met none of its demands for the release of the hostages, which included the release of two arrested leaders of the Ijaw tribe and payment by Royal Dutch Shell of $1.5 billion to compensate Ijaw communities for oil pollution — a demand also made by Nigerian lawmakers.

“Our ultimate aim is the control of the resources of the Niger Delta by its people,” said the message to the AP.

Residents of the delta, the source of the oil that provides 95 percent of government revenue, remain among the poorest in Nigeria. The area has few roads, clinics, schools or landline telephones.

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