Hostages: Two suspects arrested

TWO men suspected to be among the abductors of four foreign oil workers in Bayelsa State have been arrested by security agents.

Confusion, yesterday reigned over different reports about the demand of kidnappers holding the kidnapped expatriate oil workers with one of the groups suggesting it had dropped the demand for the release of impeached Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Dokubo Asari. It said it now wanted a ransom, while another group dismissed the suggestion.

Meanwhile, oil supply worries linked to possible labour unrest over hostages still being held in Nigeria and Iran�s tense diplomatic standoff with the West over its nuclear ambitions have forced prices above $69 per barrel in trading.

Two militants arrested

The State Security Service (SSS) was said to have mounted a tight surveillance on the militants since the kidnap of the oil workers and the efforts paid off, weekend when two of the suspected abductoors were nabbed.
Contacted yesterday, Director of the SSS in the state confirmed the arrest of the suspects but declined to give details.
A source close to the SSS, however, told Vanguard that security forces would not negotiate with the kidnappers because they were suspected criminals. �Look, let me tell you, nobody and I repeat, nobody can intimidate the government to negotiate with them. In fact, very soon, we will get them because we have identified some of them and will round them up without delay,� he said.

It was gathered that if the militia group did not release the hostages in the next few days, security agents might be forced to return fire for fire. �We are only awaiting clearance from the Presidency, which had ordered that we should not use force. Once that is cleared, we will launch attack on them where ever they are. They cannot hold the country to ransom,� the source said.

Delta holds talks

The Delta State government, yesterday, held a meeting with chairmen and leaders of local governments in the riverine areas of the state at Government House Annex, Warri, and gave them the marching order to report any militia member that attempts to take refuge in their communities or local governments.
Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who presided over the meeting reportedly read the riot act to them.

A community leader from Gbaramatu local government told Vanguard that security operatives invited some leaders, last week, and warned them that they would be held responsible should the militants infiltrate their communities.
In Bayelsa State, a Government House official told Vanguard that the militants had agreed to drop their earlier demand for the release of former Gov. Alamieyeseigha and Alhaji Asari Dokubo in exchange for the kidnapped oil workers.

The official who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, said the militants were determined to extract a commitment from the state government that they be compensated and protected from arrest. The state government assured the British government of the safety of its national and three others kidnapped by militant Ijaw youths in Ekeremor local government area of the state.

The international community yesterday expressed fear over report that the Federal Government might apply military force in securing the release of the abducted men one of whom is said to be ill.

The four expatriate oil workers were kidnapped on January 11 by the militants and their whereabouts have remained a mystery to their employers and the nation�s security forces in spite of the massive military build up in the Niger Delta.

It was gathered that apart from the special negotiating team set up by the Federal Government comprising the four governors of Bayelsa, Delta, Ondo and Rivers States as well as stakeholders from the four states, several other contact groups have been set up by the Bayelsa State government with a view to resolving the lingering hostage drama.

Governor Goodluck Jonathan of Bayelsa State told the British Deputy High Commissioner in Nigeria, Mr. Peter Waterworth, who called on him in Yenagoa that all hands were on the deck to bring the nightmare to an end, noting that so far, significant progress had been made.

No fresh demand, say kidnappers

A rights activist close to the kidnappers said it was untrue that they were asking for money, adding that they would not drop their demand for the release of Asari Dokubo and Chief Alamieyeseigha.
The activist said the best concession the kidnappers could get was to drop their demand for the release of Chief Alamieyeseigha, but certainly not Asari. �The real issue here is resource control and not the release of people,� he said.

Oil prices jump up

Light sweet crude for March delivery rose 57 cents to $69.05 yesterday a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

On Friday, the contract jumped $1.52 to settle at $68.35 a barrel, the highest closing price since September 1, just days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Crude oil prices reached a record high of $70.85 a barrel on August 30.
Nymex February heating oil gained 1.28 cents to $1.8800 a gallon (3.8 litres) while gasoline rose 1.15 cents to $1.8285 a gallon. Natural gas fell 2.67 cents to $9.085 per 1 000 cubic feet.
�In the short-term, it is all about geopolitical drama,� said Victor Shum, an analyst with energy consultancy Purvin and Gertz in Singapore. �The short-term issue is Nigeria and the long-term issue is Iran,� he said.

Protesters storm Agip facility

Meanwhile, protesters stormed an oil production facility in the Niger Delta yesterday but were driven off by security forces, industry officials said.
The site near Obama, operated by the Italian energy giant Agip, lies in the swampland of Bayelsa State, a region which in recent weeks has been the scene of several attacks on oil facilities by militants.
�There was a protest by some youths this morning … and it has been contained,� said Bayelsa State Police Commissioner Aziz Ringim.

A oil industry security manager said local protesters from a nearby community overran the control room of an oil plant at 06.30 am and stole radios and other items before government forces intervened. The incident took place around 10 kilometres southwest of the village of Ogbia, he said, on the Brass River. One of the protesters was feared dead in the clash with soldiers guarding the facility.
Agip said it was investigating the report. The firm operates oil wells and flow stations in the area, pumping crude to the Brass export terminal.

Negotiating team awaits response

Nigerian officials were anxiously awaiting a response yesterday after sending local leaders to meet an armed gang that kidnapped four foreign oilmen and threatened to attack export terminals.
The crisis in Nigeria�s oil industry has combined with tensions over Iran�s nuclear programme to boost crude oil prices.
A spokesman for the Bayelsa State government, Mr Ekiyor Welson, said state and federal officials on Sunday met elders and village leaders from the restive region of the Niger Delta.

�What we have now is community and youth leaders negotiating with the boys. From the signals we are getting, there is something positive happening. By the end of this week, things will be positively resolved,� he said.
Yesterday an e-mail from a spokesman claiming to represent the kidnappers said the four oilmen were relatively healthy but that they would remain hostages until the group�s demands were met.

Responding to reports that the US hostage, boat skipper Patrick Landry, was sick, the anonymous spokesman said: �Mr Landry may be uncomfortable with the sudden change in living conditions, but he�s OK.
�The hostages will remain with us for as long as it takes. They will live and eat as we are, perhaps fall ill and be attended to as we are until we get our demands. Be certain they can only come to harm at the hands of the Nigerian army,� he said, warning the military not to attempt any rescue.

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