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MEND Rebels in Nigeria to Seek Release of Kidnapped Germans

MEND, the main militant group in the restive Niger Delta, has promised to seek the release of two German construction workers kidnapped earlier this month by unidentified gunmen.

An unidentified man walks on oil pipelines near an oil flow station belonging to Agip Oil company in Obrikom, Nigeria, Monday, March 6, 2006. Armed militants in Nigeria vowed Sunday to cut daily oil exports from this West African nation's troubled delta region by another 1 million barrels by the end of March, as OPEC nations prepared for a strategy meeting in Vienna this week. A wave of militant assaults on pipelines and oil facilities has already cut production by 455,000 barrels per day in Nigeria, which normally exports 2.5 million barrels of crude daily.

The Niger Delta is the country's oil production center

"The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta will intervene towards the release of the two German construction staff of the firm Julius Berger, who were ambushed and kidnapped for ransom in Rivers state," the group said in an e-mail to AFP, the news agency reported on Monday, July 21.

MEND said it was making contacts with the abductors who seized the Germans in the volatile oil-rich region on July 11.

The incident led the company to suspend its operations in the Niger Delta, the heart of oil production in the world's eighth largest exporter.

Julius Berger is currently rebuilding the main east-west road across the Niger Delta and is one of Nigeria's biggest private sector employers, with more than 16,000 employees.

Located and identified

Some 15 unidentified gunmen kidnapped the two employees of Nigeria's biggest construction firm Julius Berger, a unit of Germany's Bilfinger Berger, near the city of Port Harcourt. They had been travelling in a convoy of armored jeeps.

"MEND has located and identified the culprits and will begin negotiating with the kidnappers in the hope for a safe and unconditional release of the captives," said the group.

Apparently, it took the decision because the men were not part of the energy sector but were helping to build infrastructure in the Niger Delta region.

Unrest

MEND claims to be fighting for greater control of the region's oil wealth by local people and first emerged in January 2006.

Since then it has led a campaign of violence against oil facilities, perpetrating a series of violent attacks on the oil industry and kidnapping hundreds of local and expatriate workers in the restive region. Almost all have been released unharmed.

Several foreign firms, including French tire company Michelin and oil servicing firm Wilbros, have left the region because of security problems.

The unrest has reduced Nigeria's oil output by a quarter, causing it to lose its position as Africa's biggest oil producer to Angola, according to April figures from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

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