Nigerian officials have met ethnic Ijaw leaders and youth
representatives to put pressure on militants in the Niger Delta to
release three foreign oil worker hostages, a spokesman said.
The latest round of talks held in the southern oil city of Warri on
Monday raised hopes that the three men -- two Americans and a Briton --
who have been held captive in the Delta swamps for the last three weeks
may be released soon.
"The meeting with various stakeholders on the crisis took place in Warri
yesterday (Monday)," said spokesman Abel Oshevire, before further talks
among the Ijaws and a call for the hostages to be released from their
"It was part of ongoing efforts to seek an immediate release of the
expatriates. Ijaw leaders and delegates from Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and
Ondo (States) attended the meeting," he told AFP.
"The government's side was led by secretary to government Emmanuel
Uduaghan and the discussions were frank and reassuring. We are hopeful
the hostages will be released very soon," he said.
But Oshevire added: "No-one knows the time. It could be today, it could
be tomorrow. We had to keep two days of vigil the last time six of the
nine hostages were released."
A local journalist told AFP further talks were under way Tuesday at the
Wellington Hotel venue in the port city, but only Ijaw leaders and
representatives were there.
"The government team is not in today's session. Only Ijaw delegates
across the entire Niger Delta are meeting. Some embassy officials,
especially, from the US, are around the venue. They are not allowed in,"
In a communique at the end of the meeting, youths joined their leaders
to appeal to the militants over the remaining hostages.
"We are aligning with the position of Ijaw leaders and call for the
release of the remaining hostages," the Ijaw Youth Leaders Forum said.
Ijaw leaders had made a similar call for the release of the three
hostages - two Americans and a Briton -- at the weekend.
"We, the entire Ijaw nation, met today and said that enough is enough,"
Chief Edwin Clark told AFP by telephone from Yenagoa, after a meeting on
"We have asked our youths to release the hostages while we start
negotiating with the federal government. They've made their point and
the whole world has listened," said Clark, the senior chief among 14
The youths said Tuesday "the federal government should enter into
genuine dialogue with Ijaw people to address issues of economic,
political and social exclusion."
They also called for an end to military attacks on Ijaw villages.
"We believe that a clear and formal declaration to that effect by the
federal government and release of the remaining hostages would
demonstrate goodwill and prepare the conditions necessary for genuine
dialogue," they said.
Heavily armed militants belonging to the Movement for the Emancipation
of the Niger Delta (MEND) attacked energy giant Shell's Forcados export
terminal on February 18.
They fought a gunbattle with navy troopers, set fire to a crude oil
loading platform and kidnapped nine foreign workers.
Six of the men were later released, but MEND is still holding US oil
workers Russell Spell and Cody Oswald and British security expert John
The group demanded talks with the federal government on regional
autonomy, 1.5 billion dollars (1.2 billion euros) in damages for
polluted fishing communities and the release of two jailed Ijaw leaders.
They have vowed not to harm the hostages, but MEND said it was holding
them as "human shields" against military attacks on villages.
The militants are seeking total control of the region's
multi-billion-dollar oil wealth for the Ijaws. The unrest has led to 20
percent cut in Nigeria's daily oil exports of 2.6 million barrels and
triggered a rise in world's oil prices.