updated 2/21/2006 2:32:10 PM ET 2006-02-21T19:32:10

Militants holding nine foreign oil-workers hostage refused to negotiate directly with the Nigerian government Tuesday, while crude oil prices climbed on worries that the country’s recent pipeline attacks could disrupt global supply.

The West African nation — the United States’ fifth-largest oil supplier — is reeling from weekend attacks in which militants blasted oil and gas pipelines and sabotaged a key oil-loading terminal belonging to Shell Oil Co. That and an earlier attack have forced Shell to halt the flow of about 455,000 barrels a day, about one-fifth of daily output.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said there have been no negotiations for the release of the hostages — three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino — who were seized Saturday. The militants called for independent negotiators.

“The Nigerian government is fraudulent and we can never go into negotiations or dialogue with this fraudulent government without the involvement of a neutral third party,” the group’s spokesman said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

The militants, who are pressing for the release of two of the region’s leaders from prison and greater control of oil revenues, said they would welcome entreaties from the captives’ families.

Dozens of armed militants seized the nine foreigners after storming a barge belonging to the Houston-based oil services company Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline for Shell.

The kidnappings came amid a rise in violence in Nigeria’s oil-rich south that has cut some 20 percent of the country’s crude production.

Nigeria, Africa’s leading oil exporter, usually sends out 2.5 million barrels daily. Violence and sabotage of oil operations have been common in the oil-rich Niger Delta for the past 15 years amid demands by the region’s impoverished communities for a greater share of the oil revenue flowing from their land.

The violence led to concerns about supply disruptions that helped send oil prices higher on international markets.

Light sweet crude for March delivery gained 77 cents to $60.65 a barrel in afternoon trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The Nymex had been closed Monday for the U.S. Presidents Day holiday.

April Brent crude futures, which had risen more than $1.50 a day earlier, gave up some of those gains, falling 3 cents to $61.51 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures exchange.

Nymex gasoline futures slid by almost 5 cents to $1.456 per gallon, while heating oil futures rose less than a penny to $1.666 a gallon. Natural gas futures jumped 19.8 cents to $7.38 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Hostage takings are a common occurrence in the volatile delta, but most captives are released unharmed. Last month, militants held four foreigners for 19 days before releasing them unscathed.

On Monday, the group attacked a pipeline and a houseboat they said housed Nigerian military, vowing to spread their campaign across the vast southern region of swamps and creeks from where most of the African oil giant’s crude is pumped. A Shell spokeswoman said the houseboat was abandoned before attackers blew it up. It was unclear who owned the boat and military officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The group also has threatened to kill President Olusegun Obasanjo if he enters the region.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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