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The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"The youths were demanding employment opportunities"
 real 28k

Harriam Essa Oyofo of Shell on Focus on Africa
"They are demanding employment"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK
Nigeria hostages 'to be freed'
Niger delta people in boat
Bayelsa may be oil-rich but its people live in poverty
The international oil company, Royal Dutch/Shell, says it has reached an agreement with representatives of armed men holding 165 workers hostage on two oil rigs in Nigeria.

A spokesman for the company told the BBC that members of a local community in the Niger Delta, who had stormed the rigs on Monday, had agreed to vacate them on Thursday.

Delta oil hostages
March 2000 - 32 held for 5 days
July 99 - 64 held for two days
June 99 - 2 helicopter pilots held for 3 weeks

The spokesman said the hostages, including 144 Nigerians, seven US citizens, five Britons and some Australians and Lebanese, were safe.

The armed men were demanding employment with the company and unspecified "compensation" for taking oil from the area, according to the company.

The Royal Dutch/Shell spokesman said group's demands would be discussed at a meeting on 15 August.

Militants in the Niger Delta region have frequently taken foreign workers hostage in order to draw attention to their cause, demanding money or jobs.

The rigs are located in one of the most inaccessible areas of the Niger Delta, a region of sea water creeks, swamps and mangrove islands.

Motorboats

A spokesman for Royal Dutch/Shell, Harriam Essa Oyofo, told the BBC the 35 people came to the oil rigs in 8 motorboats.

Oil worker
Oilworkers are frequently targetted

Company officials spent Wednesday talking with local community leaders.

The company had also asked the governor of Bayelsa state to intervene to ensure the incident ended peacefully.

Poor region

Oil production in the Delta generates much of Nigeria's revenue, but historically the region has not benefited from the wealth.

Royal Dutch/Shell is the largest multinational oil company operating in Nigeria, and its production accounts for nearly half of the country's total daily output of just over 2m barrels a day.

President Olusegun Obasanjo promised to develop the oil-producing areas when he came to power last year and has set up a new body, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to do this.

But so far little has changed for the residents of the area with unemployment still high and infrastructure poor.

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Key stories:
See also:

28 Apr 00 | Africa
Nigeria's Delta seeks development
12 Jul 00 | Africa
Oil wealth: An unequal bounty
29 Apr 99 | Crossing continents
Troubled times in the Niger Delta
08 Jun 00 | Africa
Oil: Nigeria's blessing and curse
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