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Nearly 50 Workers Held Hostage at Italian Oil Facility in Nigeria
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Militants and villagers on Monday attacked an Italian-run oil platform in southern Nigeria and are holding nearly 50 people hostage, a government official said.

"Some militants overran Tebidaba flow station and now we are making contact with them," said Victor Akenge, environment commissioner of Bayelsa state where the facility is located.

"They are armed youths and community members working together. They are angry about neglected pollution over the years. They want spill sites cleaned up and compensation paid."

About 48 Agip workers and security staff are being held at the flow station, located deep in the mangrove swamps of Bayelsa State in southern Nigeria.

Agip, a unit of Milan-based ENI, said it has halted its 50,000-barrel-a-day production at Tebidaba, the latest target in a recent wave of attacks against the oil industry in the world's eighth largest exporter.

"Of course production is blocked," an Agip spokesman in Milan said.

There were oil spills in the Tebidaba area in March and July as a result of explosions along Agip's pipeline, which feeds the 200,000-barrel-a-day Brass tanker terminal.

It is often difficult to distinguish between militancy and crime in the lawless delta, where almost every community has munitions arsenals and vigilantes, and theft of crude oil from pipelines is widespread.

In this case, the protesters are arguing that compensation is due because the spills were caused by equipment failure, Akenge said.

Many residents of the impoverished region resent the multibillion-dollar industry for damaging their environment while bringing them few benefits. Many fear violence will intensify in the run-up to general elections in April.

A series of attacks by the militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), in February forced Shell to pull out hundreds of workers from neighboring Delta State and reduce output by about 500,000 barrels per day.

(China Daily November 7, 2006)

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