Nigerian militia leader refuses negotiations

The leader of Nigerian militants who captured four foreign oil workers said on Saturday he would not talk with negotiators sent by the government and reiterated threats to launch new attacks on oil installations.

Brutus Ebipadei, a leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, also said American hostage Patrick Landry is sick and warned that if he dies, his group would kill the remaining hostages. He did not say why the other hostages would be killed and it was not possible to confirm the state of Landry’s health independently.

Ebipadei has claimed responsibility for a spate of attacks on oil installations in Nigeria that included the kidnapping of four foreigners—Landry, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran—from a Shell oil platform last week. Ebipadei is also demanding the release of two imprisoned figureheads of his ethnic Ijaw group.

“Our demands are not negotiable. And failure to meet those demands means we will launch attacks on all oil installations to stop Nigeria’s capacity to export oil,” Ebipadei said by telephone from an undisclosed location. “We are not going to say when we will attack, but it’s going to be any moment from now.”

The workers were seized on January 11 near a Shell oil field by militants behind attacks on Nigerian oil installations that have cut the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries member nation’s crude output by nearly 10%. A major Shell pipeline leading to its Forcados export terminal was blown up the following day, and more attacks followed in other areas.

Shell has evacuated hundreds of workers from the delta since the unrest began.

Ebipadei said negotiators sent by the government to secure the hostages’ release “are traitors to the Ijaw cause and we’re not ready to deal with them”.

It was not known where the hostages were being held, but Ebipadei said: “The hostages are with us. They’re drinking the bad water we’re drinking and experiencing the conditions our people have suffered for decades.” He added that if Landry dies, “we’ll have no choice but to kill the remaining ones”.

On Friday, the United States State Department called for the release of the four captives, while a British diplomat said his country was pressing Nigeria not to use force to free them.

The militants are demanding the government release militia leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and former Bayelsa governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. They are also demanding $1,5-billion in compensation from Shell for alleged environmental damage.

Dokubo-Asari was jailed in September on treason charges, while Alamieyeseigha faces extradition to Britain, after jumping bail there on charges of money laundering.

The kidnapped workers are employed by two companies contracted by Shell in the delta: Britain’s Ecodrill and Tidewater of Louisiana.

Nigeria, Africa’s leading oil producer, exports 2,5-million barrels of oil daily and is the fifth-biggest source of US oil imports.

The crisis, along with concern over the Iranian nuclear dispute and new threats of attacks on the US by al-Qaeda, has helped push oil prices up. On Friday, light, sweet crude for February delivery rose 54 cents to $67.35 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by afternoon in Europe.—Sapa-AP



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