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Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 12:39 UK

French sailors seized in Nigeria

Oil militant
Numerous armed gangs operate in the Niger Delta

Police in Nigeria's restive Niger Delta region have not received any ransom demand from kidnappers who took two French seamen captive on Sunday.

The men, crew members of a tug boat servicing oil platforms, were seized from a bar outside Port Harcourt.

French officials said they were working to get the men released as soon as possible, the embassy told reporters.

The kidnap came after a weekend of turf violence between rival militants left at least four dead in Port Harcourt.

More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in the Niger Delta, where militants have attacked oil infrastructure and forced companies to cut their production by nearly a quarter.

The militants say they are fighting to ensure that Niger Delta residents see more benefits of the oil wealth.

But correspondents say some are criminal gangs, making money from ransom payments and stealing oil.

Street patrols

The kidnapped sailors are crew members of the oil platform tug Bourbon Apsara, police said.

Map

They were drinking in a waterfront bar when a dozen armed men arrived in a boat and took them away.

Security forces on the scene opened fire killing at least three militants as they tried to escape, police spokeswoman Rita Inoma Abbey said.

Earlier, gunfights erupted in Port Harcourt's slums as two gangs fought over territory.

Staff at a clinic run by French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said one person died from gunshot wounds there, another 14 people were still being treated.

At least three other civilians were killed in the city's waterfront slums as gang members fought running battles, Reuters news agency reports.

The fight between gangs run by Soboma George and Prince Farah, both wanted by the authorities for crimes such as kidnapping, armed robbery and murder, flared in a town just outside Port Harcourt last week.

A group of gunmen arrived in boats to attack Port Harcourt late on Friday.

"The gunmen have got back into their boats and gone back to the creeks," Mrs Inoma Abbey said.

Soldiers from the Joint Task Force are patrolling the streets, she said.

Port Harcourt was placed under a curfew last year when gang members loyal to Mr George fought with another gang and the military.

Dozens were killed and wounded in battles between militants and the military, which used helicopter gunships to attack youths.


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