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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Nigeria threatens crackdown in oil delta

LAGOS, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Tuesday a spate of kidnappings in the oil producing Niger Delta was unacceptable and ordered the military to respond using "force for force".

In a statement released after a meeting of security chiefs and political leaders from the southern wetlands region, Obasanjo ordered security forces to start round-the-clock patrols of the Niger Delta creeks and threatened to sanction companies if they pay ransoms.

"We are going to be firm and say no to violence and hostage-taking. Wherever we find hostage-takers now, we will hunt them down. We will not accept this any longer," Obasanjo said.

The statement appeared to signal a change in the government's stance towards a recent upsurge in violence against the world's eighth largest oil exporter.

A series of attacks and kidnappings at the beginning of the year by a new militant group demanding more local control over the delta's oil wealth prompted Obasanjo to set up a committee to inject new investment into the neglected region.

The latest spate of abductions has seen at least 16 foreign oil workers taken in five separate incidents by different groups in two weeks. Authorities say most of the latest cases have been motivated by ransom and by disputes between oil companies and the communities where they operate.

At least six hostages are still being held after 10 were released over the past few days.
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