Nigerian militants free Korean hostages

Jan 13, 2007 01:00 AM

Militants in the Niger Delta Region freed nine South Koreans and one Nigerian abducted on January 10. Freedom was secured for the hostages by the Bayelsa State Government.
A statement from the government said the release of the nine Koreans was secured without any ransom. The hostages are workers of Daewoo Engineering and Construction Company.

The State Governor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan commended the effort of the coordinator of the state vigilante outfit Bayelsa Volunteers, Chief Joshua Benamaisia who personally secured the release of the hostages. The hostages released are M.S. Lee, J.T. Hong, W.S. Kim and Y.M. Park, Y.I. Yong, J.C. Choi, J.G. Kim, J.J. Choi and Mr Augustine. Benamaisia said that the hostages were released at exactly 5.30 pm on January 12, 2007.
"The State Governor once again gives assurance that the ugly incidence of hostage taking will not happen in the state again as government is putting in place measures to provide employment and empowerment for youths in the state,"the government said.

The militants armed with guns and dynamites had invaded the oil services base and kidnapped the nine South Korean workers and a Nigerian. The presence of soldiers and security guards at the base, operated by South Korea's Daewoo, did not deter the gangsters who carried out the operation with sophisticated guns and dynamites.
“They entered the facility armed with guns and dynamites before dawn there was an exchange of gunshots and they broke in with dynamite," said Han Sang-ho, a Daewoo employee at the site.

A local government spokesman, Ekiyor Wilson also confirmed that dozens of Nigerian soldiers and security guards at the complex could not foil the operation. About 17 South Koreans were said to be at the facility, located in the Bayelsa state capital, Yenagoa.
Hostages in the Niger Delta are usually kept for a few days in remote settlements, which are accessible only by boat through mangrove-lined creeks, before being released unharmed after ransom payments by their employers or local authorities. But one Nigerian and one Briton were killed last year in separate botched attempts by troops to free them.

On December 7, four workers of ENI, Agip's parent company, were abducted by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Five Chinese workers with a telecommunications company were abducted at Emouhua area of Port Harcourt. The expatriates were working on a vandalised electricity line when their captors pounced on them and whisked them away.
A Nigerian naval officer who was also said to have been kidnapped was found dead. MEND, which claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the ENI workers, has however denied being a party to the abduction of the Chinese workers.

The group has rebuffed any monetary inducement for the release of the hostages, claiming that the release of their detained leaders, among them, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo Asari, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force and former governor of Bayelsa state, Chief Diepreye Solomon Alamieyeseigha is the condition for their release.
Meanwhile, a United States defence analyst, J. Peter Pham, has warned that Nigeria could become a new theatre for terrorist activities and therefore called for a close monitoring of trends in the country by the US. His observation, published in a highly respected US defence journal, World Defence Review, suggests that the current unrest in the Niger Delta, whereby militants kidnap oil workers could be a precursor to serious terrorist onslaught in Nigeria.

Pham's write-up came on the heels of a US air bombardment in Somalia following suspicions that some al-Qaeda operatives are behind the war between the interim government and Muslim fundamentalists in Mogadishu.
According to him: "One cannot ignore the fact that the current, if you will, resistance movement, there in the Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has outside sources and there is reason to believe that the outside support does come from militant Islamic groups who are exploiting the legitimate grievances in the Delta for their own ends."

Pham believes that violence in the Niger Delta is taking on a radical Islamic dimension as Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, has stepped up its kidnappings and attacks at Western oil facilities. He noted that the group has also started claiming a string of car bombings, a tactic that has been used very little by violent groups in West Africa, insisting that it wants a more equitable distribution of wealth for the underdeveloped region.
Pham observed that MEND leader, Asari Dokubo has drawn parallels between his struggle against the Nigerian government and Osama Bin Laden's terrorist activities. He cites Asari's reference to Bin Laden and the similarities MEND's attacks bear to those of Middle Eastern terrorist groups as proof that the group is becoming intertwined with Islamic militancy.

Relatedly, Paul Wee, who is Programme Officer for Religion and Peacemaking at the US Institute for Peace, says the stability of Nigeria is paramount to the stability of the region because of its size, energy production and balance of Christian and Islamic populations. Wee said although the pressure is there, he does not expect Nigeria to fall to extremists.
"They are quite aware of the fact that some of the influence comes from other parts of Africa and the Middle East that would like to see more disruption and more anarchy, more chaos, but I think to the credit of Nigerians, they have rejected this," he said.

In conclusion, Pham had stated that though no evidence has yet emerged of international terrorist involvement, certainly the architects of international terror have already assessed the possibility of exploiting MEND's potential. He added that the problem is very real and growing and could well spread to other parts of the subregion and across the continent.
“Consequently, it is counterproductive for the United States to be concerned almost exclusively with "international terrorism" to the neglect of the (thus far) low-level domestic terrorist challenge faced by Nigeria and other African states." he posited.

He warned America that its counter terrorism efforts would bear little fruit if they are perceived as too preoccupied with protecting expatriates and their interests and too little concerned with the hundreds of attacks affecting Africans.
"In short, in order to prosecute a global war on terror," America needs to assume a truly global perspective, and the possible countermeasures," he concluded.

Source: This Day
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