Mend denies kidnap gang arrest

2010-11-22 12:44

Nairobi/Abuja - A Nigerian militant group on Monday denied claims the army had seized dozens of gunmen responsible for a spate of oil-worker kidnappings.

The army said on Saturday it had arrested over 50 gang members, including the ringleader, responsible for seizing 19 oil workers over the last few weeks.

However, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said in an emailed statement that the army's claims were fiction.

Mend spokesperson Jomo Gbomo said a junior commander known as Obese and a handful of his men gave themselves up in exchange for cash and prosecution from immunity.

A raid on a Mend camp last Wednesday freed the 19 hostages - 12 Nigerians, two Frenchmen, two Americans, two Indonesians and a Canadian who were taken in raids on oil installations and support ships in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

No arrests were made at that point.

The two sides often issue conflicting claims as Mend pursues its stated goal of a more equitable share of oil money for impoverished communities in the Niger Delta.

Mend slashed Nigeria's oil output through a campaign of sabotage that began in 2006, though late last year a government amnesty saw many militants lay down their arms and allowed output to rise again.

However, a faction of Mend has this year stepped up operations again.

The group killed at least a dozen people during Nigeria's 50th anniversary celebrations in October when it detonated twin car bombs at a parade in Abuja.

Gbomo has repeatedly said the group will continue to target oil workers for kidnap and launch new attacks on facilities.