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Cameroon militia takes 10 oil workers hostage

By Emmanuel Tumanjong
Associated Press / November 1, 2008
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YAOUNDE, Cameroon - A Cameroon militia took a group of 10 mostly foreign oil workers hostage yesterday off this West African nation's coast and threatened to kill the captives if demands for autonomy talks with the government are not met.

Militia commander Ebi Dari said by telephone from an undisclosed location that his group and an allied militia seized six French workers, two Cameroonians, one Senegalese and one Tunisian from the Bourbon Sagitta, a tugboat off Cameroon's coast, early yesterday.

"We want to talk to the Cameroon government," Dari said. He added, "If they think this is child's play, we are going to kill [the hostages] in three days, one by one."

Stephanie Elbaz, spokeswoman for maritime services company Bourbon that owns the Bourbon Sagitta, said armed attackers in speedboats boarded the vessel at an oil terminal and made off with the hostages - all Bourbon employees - leaving five other crew members aboard.

Dari, the leader of the Cameroon-based Niger Delta Defense and Security Council, said the attack had been carried out in conjunction with an allied militia, the Bakassi Freedom Fighters. Both groups have operated since 2002 in Bakassi, a region of oil-rich land that has been disputed between Cameroon and Nigeria for years.

Cameroon took full control of Bakassi in August after an arduous peace agreement, but militias including Dari's have waged low-level attacks on Cameroon troops. In the past they have said Bakassi should have more autonomy, and possibly full independence from Cameroon.

Dari said Bakassi had been severely neglected by the government and he demanded more development and schools there. Many people in the region are fishermen who live in huts with no running water or electricity.

Asked about the condition of the hostages, Dari said they were "fine."

The volatile Bakassi region neighbors Nigeria's troubled oil-rich Niger Delta, where oil-worker kidnappings carried out by Nigerian militias claiming a greater share of oil wealth are commonplace.

On Wednesday, Bourbon suspended operations in the Bonny River region of Nigeria after armed men boarded one of its boats there. The men made off with material and crew members' personal property, a statement said. None of the crew was injured in the incident.

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