Nigeria charges 65 over kidnappings

2010-12-01 21:21

Port Harcourt - Police in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta have charged 65 people with kidnapping, robbery and oil theft, some of them believed to have been behind the abduction of 19 oil and construction workers.

The hostages, including seven expatriates and 12 Nigerians working for US energy giant Exxon Mobil, London-listed oil explorer Afren and local construction firm Julius Berger, were freed last month.

The armed forces arrested the gang leader responsible and more than 60 of his followers - presumed members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) militant group - a few weeks later.

Rita Inoma-Abbey, police spokesperson for Rivers, one of the three main states in the Niger Delta, said on Wednesday that more than 100 suspects had been arrested in recent weeks in connection with various abductions and robberies in the region.

"We charged 65 of them on charges of kidnapping, armed robbery and bunkering," she said. Bunkering refers to the organised theft of large quantities of crude oil.

"Some of the suspects were responsible for the abduction of the 19 oil workers rescued recently and of prominent citizens including a traditional ruler in the state," she said.

Resurgent unrest in the Niger Delta has risked undermining the credibility of President Goodluck Jonathan in the run-up to elections in April next year.

He is the first head of state from the oil region and brokered an amnesty with militants last year, which saw thousands of gunmen lay down their weapons and brought more than a year without significant attacks on the oil industry.

Mend has warned of further strikes on oil installations since the freeing of the oil workers but the military appears to have made significant advances, taking over militant camps and detaining suspected gang members.