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Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 03:15 GMT 04:15 UK

World: Africa

Kidnaps rise in Niger Delta

Security experts in the Nigerian oil industry say the kidnapping of foreign workers in the country's troubled Niger Delta has reached unprecedented levels.

Several groups of foreigners are currently being held hostage in remote parts of the Niger Delta by militant local youths.

Barnaby Phillips: Ransom demands up to $1 million
Oil workers and other foreign nationals working in the Delta have been taken at gunpoint from boats and villages and in one occasion from a bar in the city of Port Harcourt.

The hostages include British, American, Indian and Dutch nationals.

One British man who was kidnapped while on a fishing trip has been held since 20 June.

The companies involved have received ransom notes ranging from $100,000 to $1 million.

So far, the hostages have been invariably released unharmed.

But oil companies are having to pay their staff increasingly large premiums to work in the Delta.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Lagos says that although the Delta supplies much of Nigeria's wealth, its people are amongst the poorest in the country and they have resorted to direct action to draw attention to their plight.

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