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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nigerian militants free 125 inmates in police station attack

LAGOS (AFP) - Nigerian separatist militants released 125 inmates when they stormed a police station in Port Harcourt in an attack to free their leader that claimed at least two lives, police said Tuesday.

"Heavily armed men raided our station and freed some 125 inmates" during Sunday's raid in the capital of the southern Rivers State, the administrative hub of the oil industry, state police spokeswoman Ireju Barasua told AFP.

Some 50 fighters from the most high-profile separatist group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), attacked in the afternoon to free one of their top commanders, George Sobomabo.

Sobomabo had been arrested earlier Sunday and taken to the police station under heavy escort.

"He was held until the arrival of around 50 of our fighters armed with submachine guns, grenades and assault weapons," MEND claimed in an e-mail statement.

Police said two bystanders were killed in an exchange of fire between security forces and rebel gunmen during the attack, but the local press said up to five people had been killed and many others injured.

MEND, which says it wants a greater share of Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil wealth to go to the inhabitants of the Niger Delta, the region that actually produces the oil, has until now mostly confined its activities to kidnapping workers from foreign oil firms.

The people of the delta complain that while their region generates 95 percent of Nigeria's foreign currency earnings, they have little to show for this in terms of development or living standards.

There has been a sharp increase in kidnappings and attacks on oil installations over the past year. In 2006 alone, more than 60 foreigners, mostly oil workers, were kidnapped, and dozens of Nigerians were killed by militants and bandits.

Some 40 expatriate workers are currently being held hostage in the swamps of the restive region by armed men.
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