Officials: 12 foreign captives in Nigeria freed

/ Source: The Associated Press

Hostage takers released 12 foreign hostages Monday in Nigeria's restive southern oil heartland, officials said.

Officials showed the 12 liberated foreigners and one Nigerian to reporters at the governor's offices in the southern state of Bayelsa.

According to the governor's office, the foreign nationals were: Three Americans; five Britons; two Indians; one Filipino and one South African. A Nigerian also taken in one of the three raids in which the foreigners were snatched was also released. Foreign embassies weren't immediately available for comment.

More than 200 foreigners, mostly oil workers, have been kidnapped in a year and a half of rising violence in the region where Africa's biggest oil producer pumps its crude.

Both criminal gangs and armed militants who are pressing for more state oil revenues for their impoverished areas seize hostages, who are generally released unharmed after a ransom is paid.

Hostages still in captivity across region
Nearly two dozen people are known to still be in captivity across Nigeria's south.

The militants said earlier they were releasing the hostages on "humanitarian grounds," while indicating they would continue attacks despite conciliatory words from new President Umaru Yar'Adua.

Yar'Adua said in his inaugural address last month that he considered the crisis in the Niger Delta one of the stiffest facing his unruly nation of 140 million people.

The main militant group, Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta, said it would halt attacks for one month to give Yar'Adua time to come up with a plan for a final solution to the region's problems. That militant group said it wasn't involved in any release Monday.

The militants making the statement are thought to be an ethnic Ijaw group that claims affiliation with MEND, an umbrella for criminal and militant bands operating in the vast region of swamps and creeks.

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer, an OPEC member and leading foreign supplier of oil to America. Violence in the region has cut crude output by nearly one third in recent months.