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Russian Hostages Freed In Nigeria

View of gas flares at Ebocha, Rivers State, Niger Delta Photo courtesy Israel Aloja, Environmental Rights Action.
by Carmen Gentile
UPI Correspondent
Miami (UPI) Aug 08, 2007
Six Russian hostages held by militants in the Niger Delta were freed after more than two months amid gang violence in Port Harcourt that left at least 15 dead. The six Russians were taken hostage June 3 while working at an aluminum factory run by Russian firm UC RUSAL, the No. 1 producer of aluminum in the world. The captives were among the more than 200 people abducted so far this year by militants and gangs that operate in the oil-rich delta with relative impunity.

High unemployment in the delta, environmental degradation due to oil and gas extraction, and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity have angered the region's youth, who have taken up arms, many times supplied by political leaders.

Nigerian Vice President Jonathan Goodluck this week called on private petroleum companies and public officials to ameliorate suffering in the delta and curb violence by creating more jobs for the region's youth.

"This way, they (youth in the delta) can be gainfully employed and keep out of trouble," Goodluck said from the capital, Abuja.

"While government is doing all within its power to address the volatile situation in the Niger Delta region, all stakeholders in the region must appreciate each other's position and resolve the issues amicably," he added.

Since assuming power in May, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has called for calm in the delta and an end to the kidnappings that hamper the region's oil production. So far, his appeals have had little effect.

However, at least one militant leader said he would heed Yar'Adua's call for peace as the new president tries to bring reform to the notoriously corrupt delta, where billions of dollars in annual oil revenue rarely trickle down to the impoverished majority, many of whom earn less than $1 a day.

"The crisis in the Niger Delta commands our urgent attention," said Yar'Adua soon after assuming office. "Ending it is a matter of strategic importance to our country. I will use every resource available to me, with your help, to address this crisis in a spirit of fairness, justice, and cooperation."

In June, Yar'Adua got a much-needed boost when militant leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari praised the president's choice for vice president, Goodluck, who hails from the dominant Ijaw tribe in the delta, and said his addition to the president's ticket paved the way for the temporary cease-fire in the delta.

"The majority of the Ijaw people are saying we should give Jonathan a chance, and we'll give him a chance," said Dokubo-Asari, who was released from prison after the election. "We'll halt attacks."

The militant leader beloved by many Nigerian gunmen in the delta had earlier said he would "come after" those that had once imprisoned him.

It's a much-needed reprieve for the president and the oil industry, whose production has decreased by 25 percent or more -- currently estimated at 2 million barrels a day -- due to the attacks.

Militant groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta have launched numerous attacks on both onshore and offshore oil installations hoping to bring attention to the plight of residents. Anger over their treatment at the hands of Nigeria's authorities erupted this week into gangland-style violence in Port Harcourt, where police tried to quell the violence that started Sunday.

Source: United Press International

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A Venezuelan Oil Takeover
Miami (UPI) Aug 08, 2007
Efforts to nationalize Venezuela's oil and gas sector have increased government revenue by $5.8 billion a year since 2004, according to President Hugo Chavez. In a national address last week, Chavez said, "You can't have a socialist economist model - without including oil," a reference to his recent efforts to wrest greater state control of the country's petroleum sector. On May 1, Venezuela's state-run energy company Petroleos de Venezuela SA assumed majority control of the Orinoco River oil reserve, a move that added an additional $800 million to state coffers, Chavez said.

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