ABUJA, Nigeria - Militant youths agreed Wednesday to free 165 oil workers who were taken hostage on two rigs owned by Shell Oil Co. in the Niger River delta, a company spokesman said.
The workers, who include about 20 expatriates, have been held since Monday, when about 50 armed youths invaded the two flow stations in the southeastern state of Bayelsa, said Shell spokesman Bisi Ojeideran. He did not give the nationalities of the captives, who are employees of companies contracted by Shell.
After a breakdown in talks Tuesday, negotiations resumed and the youths agreed to free the captives Thursday, said Ojeideran, speaking from Lagos.
Shell refused the youths' demands for jobs as security personnel and catering staff and for a $5,000 ransom, but agreed to meet their representatives on Aug. 15 to address their grievances, he said.
''We don't want to encourage more hostage taking,'' he said.
Protesters regularly sabotage pipeline installations and take hostages from oil companies to call attention to the lack of development and abject living conditions in the Niger Delta, where most of the country's oil is drilled.
Although Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest oil producer, many residents of the delta live in desperate poverty - without paved roads, electricity or running water.
In recent years, oil companies have begun large-scale aid programs in the region, supplying millions of dollars for facilities such things as schools and clinics.