Nigerian militants refuse to free British hostage

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LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria’s main militant group called off the planned release Monday of a British hostage seized nearly nine months ago in the country’s restive southern oil region.

LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria’s main militant group called off the planned release Monday of a British hostage seized nearly nine months ago in the country’s restive southern oil region. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, had said in an e-mail that it intended to release Matthew Maguire before the end of the day in honor of his birthday. But the militants later said that would not happen. They claimed Maguire had become an honorary MEND militant and refused to leave out of solidarity. The assertion could not be independently verified, and the British High Commission in Nigeria could not immediately be reached for comment. Maguire was among 27 oil workers kidnapped by militants when their vessel was hijacked in early September. All other hostages taken in that incident have been released. He has been held longer than any other current captive. More than 200 foreign workers have been taken captive in the restive Niger Delta since violence increased in 2006, with most released unharmed after a ransom is paid. The practice is endemic across the southern oil region, with rich Nigerians and politicians increasingly targeted. Several kidnappings of foreigners have also been reported this year in other parts of Nigeria, indicating that criminals may be taking up the practice across Africa’s most-populous nation of 140 million people. The militants, who have been the target of increased military operations in the past three weeks, say they are fighting to force the federal government to send more oil-industry funds to the southern region that remains poor despite five decades of oil production. The government considers most of the militants criminals who use politics to mask their true intentions, which is the lucrative theft and overseas sale of crude oil stolen from Nigeria’s network of wells and pipelines. Top members of the military group charged with calming the region as well as high officials in state governments are accused of conspiring to help the militants in the illegal oil trade. Many of the criminal gangs emerged in the past decade, since the end of military rule, when politicians gave weapons to youth groups in return for their efforts in rigging elections. Militant attacks on oil infrastructure has trimmed about 25 percent of Nigeria’s daily crude oil production from 2006 heights, with Africa’s oil giant now pumping about 1.6 million barrels per day. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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