Kidnapped Frenchman released in Nigeria

16th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

LAGOS, March 16, 2007 (AFP) - The last foreigner held hostage in southern Nigeria, a Frenchman working for oil group Total SA, was released overnight, industry and diplmomatic sources said on Friday.

LAGOS, March 16, 2007 (AFP) - The last foreigner held hostage in southern Nigeria, a Frenchman working for oil group Total SA, was released overnight, industry and diplmomatic sources said on Friday.

"According to our calculations all the foreign hostages have now been released", a security advisor in the region told AFP on Friday.

Gerard Laporal, a logistics expert married to a Nigerian woman, was kidnapped more than a month ago in the country's oil capital Port Harcourt.

A diplomatic source in Paris said Laporal had been freed "Thursday evening" but gave no further details. Earlier an oil industry source said Laporal had been released in the early hours of the morning.

His release follows that 24 hours earlier of two Italians who had been in captivity for more than three months.

Laporal, aged around 60, was picked up by armed men on February 8 as he was returning home late at night alone in his car which was found a few hundred metres (yards) from his home a few days later.

Contact was made with the kidnappers, who were not identified, a week after the Frenchman was seized.

Total made no statement during his detention but was "working very hard for his release," an official of the multinational oil giant told AFP a few days ago.

It was the first time a Frenchman had been seized in the oil-rich south of Nigeria.

On Thursday two Italians working for Italian oil company Agip were freed by the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a group active in the region behind a series of kidnappings. The two men had been held by MEND since December 7.

ENI SpA, which owns Agip, said in a statement that no ransom had been paid for Cosma Russo and Franco Arena.

Since the beginning of 2006, when kidnapping increased sharply in southern Nigeria's oil-producing region, well over 100 foreigners have been seized, either by armed groups with a political agenda or by criminal gangs out to make ransom money.

Most have been linked to the oil industry and have been released unharmed within a few weeks.

MEND, which has often claimed responsibility for the abductions, says it wants a fairer distribution of Nigeria's oil wealth.

On Thursday it threatened to seize other hostages to "replace" Russo and Arena and to increase its attacks on the oil industry and on the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, who will step down at the end of May.

The group said it would seize more hostages from oil installations "thought to be secure" to "dispel the false sense of wellbeing gradually building up in the oil industry."

It also warned it might use car bombs.

The MEND statement challenged assurances given Monday by Obasanjo when he met Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in Rome.

Obasanjo said Nigeria's government was "fully prepared and able" to provide adequate security for oil workers and installations in the volatile Delta.

Russo and Arena were abducted along with a third Italian, Roberto Dieghi, and Lebanese national Imad Saliba.

Dieghi was freed in mid-January, while Saliba escaped last month.

Reduced output due to unrest cost Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, some 4.4 billion dollars (3.3 billion euros) last year, according to official sources.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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