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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 09:48 GMT
Army hopeful of Nigeria releases
By Alex Last
BBC News, Niger Delta

The hostages with armed men behind them
The hostages have been held now for nine days in the Niger Delta
The head of the Nigerian military unit seeking the release of nine kidnapped foreign oil workers says there is no military solution to the crisis.

Brigadier Gen Elias Zamani told the BBC that the government hoped mediation efforts would see their release soon.

They were seized in the Niger Delta in one of a series of attacks by militants on the oil industry last week.

The militants have been demanding a greater share of the region's oil wealth for local Ijaw people.

Their attacks have led to a 20% drop in Nigeria's oil exports.

'Round the clock'

For now the Nigerian military in the Niger Delta has its hands tied, warned off by the government from taking any offensive action that would antagonise the militants holding the nine foreign hostages.

Brigadier Gen Zamani, the head of the Nigerian military task force in the Niger Delta, said negotiation efforts were going well.

"The civil authorities are working hard. They're not relenting in their efforts," he told the BBC.

"Since this has happened the government has been working round the clock to ensure they are released. There is hope they'll be released."

But one of the main concerns of both local leaders and the militants is that a military option will be considered once the hostages are free, and that, it seems, is delaying their release.

Brigadier Gen Zamani refused to rule out a military response saying specific situations on the ground would dictate if any actions were taken.

The problem is that usually it is not the militants who end up paying the price for the conflict in the Delta but rather it is the civilians caught in the middle.


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