Shell hostages freed in Nigeria

ABUJA, Nigeria - Militant youths on Friday freed 165 oil workers, including seven Americans, after holding them for five days on two Shell Oil Co. rigs, company officials said.

The youths vacated the two flow stations in the southeastern state of Bayelsa at about 5 p.m., a Shell official said on condition of anonymity.

An agreement was reached Wednesday with representitives of the youths to free the hostages the following day. But the representatives only made it back to the rigs in a remote part of the Niger River Delta on Friday to order the releases, the official said.

The hostages, who included 13 other foreigners along with the Americans, have been held since Monday, when about 50 armed youths invaded the two flow stations.

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, said another company official, spokesman Bisi Ojeideran 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.


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