Foreign hostage believed killed in Nigeria

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Nigerian troops found the corpse of a man believed to be a foreign hostage floating in a creek on Saturday near a village where five people died in fighting this week, a military spokesman said.

Kidnapping of foreign workers has become commonplace in the Niger Delta, a vast wetlands region which is home to Africa’s largest oil industry, but hostages are almost always freed unharmed in exchange for money.

“The joint task force were in operation around the creeks of Ogbogoro and Ozuoba when they sighted a corpse of a white man floating on the river,” said Sagir Musa, a spokesman for the military in the Niger Delta.

There was no positive identification of the victim, he said, but his hands were tied behind his back and his mouth was obstructed.

“He apparently died from being tortured because he was kidnapped,” Musa said.

Troops were deployed to the area, on the outskirts of Rivers state capital Port Harcourt, on Thursday after five people were killed in communal clashes in the village earlier this week.

Soldiers were conducting house-to-house searches to try to find those behind the violence when they found the corpse.

There are currently about five foreigners being held by various armed groups in the delta, including a Briton and a Lebanese. A British embassy spokesman said he could not confirm the identity of the corpse.

Violence in the delta escalated early last year when armed rebels demanding control over oil revenues and an end to neglect by corrupt politicians started blowing up pipelines and oilfields.

Their raids shut down at least a fifth of oil output from Nigeria, an OPEC member and the world’s eighth-biggest exporter of crude. The disruption has contributed to record high oil prices on world markets.

But the violence in the delta has degenerated into a chaotic wave of abductions for ransom, armed robberies, turf wars between gangs and fighting connected to a trade in stolen crude.

Over 200 foreigners have been kidnapped since early 2006 and most have been released unharmed in exchange for money, fuelling the trend. Thousands of expatriate workers and their relatives have fled the region, slowing down oil and infrastructure projects.

Port Harcourt, the delta’s largest city, has been particularly prone to kidnappings and street battles.

The military took control of security in the city last month after a week of bloody street wars between rival gangs killed at least 15 people.

Politically motivated attacks on the oil industry have subsided since a new president took office on May 29 promising negotiations and efforts to develop the delta, but the crime wave has continued.