Hostage takers in Nigeria released nine Chinese oil-worker captives, officials said on Sunday, amid rising violence in Africa’s biggest petroleum producer.
More than two dozen other foreigners were still being held in Nigeria’s southern oil-pumping region, after weeks of stepped-up attacks in the restive region where most people are mired in poverty despite their area’s massive energy resources.
Assailants released the nine Chinese workers overnight, and the men abducted on January 25 from the government-owned Chinese National Petroleum were flown to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, said Bayelsa state police Commissioner Hafez Ringim.
Ringim said all the men were unharmed.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement on its website that the workers were expected to return to China soon.
”We hope overseas Chinese enterprises and personnel will further raise their awareness of safety and risk and step up precautionary measures so as to ensure their safety,” spokesperson Jiang Yu said in the statement.
In a separate incident in southern Nigeria’s Rivers state last month, five Chinese telecommunication workers were kidnapped and safely returned within two weeks.
The nine workers were released as Chinese President Hu Jintao was on an eight-country tour of Africa aimed at boosting trade ties, though Nigeria was not on the itinerary.
Hu visited Nigeria last year as part of Beijing’s efforts to secure energy and other resources for its booming economy.
Various criminal and militant groups active in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta region are holding many other foreign captives, including 24 Filipinos, two Italians, an American, a Briton and a Lebanese.
More than 100 hostages have been taken and later released in a year of violence that has cut more than one quarter of Nigeria’s usual 2,5-million barrel-per-day crude output. Hostages are normally released unharmed after a ransom is paid, although casualties can occur in gunfights between attackers and security forces that patrol the vast region of creeks and mangrove swamps.
Despite the region’s enormous oil deposits, most of the region’s people are deeply poor. Militant groups say they are fighting to force the federal government to give their regions a greater cut of oil revenues.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and one of the world’s top 10 exporters. – Sapa-AP