Nigerian Military Frees 19 Hostages

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (AFP)

Nigeria's military freed 19 hostages in the country's main oil region, including U.S., French, Indonesian and Canadian nationals, with no ransom paid, an official said Thursday.

The hostages freed in the operation were presented to journalists Thursday, some still in their work suits, with the military saying they had been rescued from a militant camp. They appeared in good health.

"These gentlemen were recovered from Obese Camp in Rivers state," said Major General Charles Omoregie. "Not a dime was paid for the release of these gentlemen. It was a sustained raid. We don't go into negotiations."

He said there had been no casualties in the operation.

The rescue Wednesday came after a series of kidnappings in the turbulent Niger Delta, the heart of one of the world's largest oil industries, and after the military threatened action to clear out militant camps.

Recent attacks had signaled a new round of abductions in the region after an amnesty program offered last year was credited with greatly reducing unrest there.

The hostages released included two French, two Americans, two Indonesians, a Canadian and Nigerians, security sources said.

The victims were all taken in raids on facilities in the Niger Delta.

France's foreign minister had earlier confirmed that the two French nationals were freed. Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon welcomed the news.

Nigeria's main militant group MEND had claimed responsibility for kidnapping 14 of the hostages.

The military had at the weekend warned of action in the Niger Delta and urged residents living near militant camps to clear out.

Eight of the hostages were believed taken in an attack this week on an Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM)facility, while seven others were kidnapped last week in a raid on a support vessel and Transocean Ltd (RIG) oil rig overseen by Afren.

The remaining four were believed to be employees for Julius Berger taken in another incident, the sources said.

Last week, three French workers for maritime services firm Bourbon seized from an oil industry supply vessel in September were also freed.

They were kidnapped when pirates in speedboats attacked their 2,000-ton vessel off Nigeria.

MEND--the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta--has claimed scores of attacks in the Niger Delta.

Copyright (c) 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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