World News

Two Russian hostages escape Nigerian captors

LAGOS (Reuters) - Two Russian expatriates kidnapped two months ago by gunmen in the Niger Delta were rescued on Thursday by Nigerian soldiers on routine patrol, a military spokesman said.

Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa said the two Russians had escaped from their captors and wandered in the delta for several days before being spotted by Nigerian troops.

“(They) escaped from a yet to be identified militant camp and for the past five days were wandering in the creeks before our own patrol team saw and rescued them,” Musa said.

Gunmen in speedboats kidnapped the two Russians on December 20. They worked for Nigeria’s sole aluminium smelter plant ALSCON in the port town of Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom. The firm is owned by the world’s largest aluminium producer, Russia’s United Company RUSAL.

Hundreds of foreigners have been seized in the Niger Delta since early 2006, most of whom have been released unharmed.

The insecurity in the delta, home to Nigeria’s oil and gas sector, has cut the country’s oil output by a fifth over the past three years.

Militants say they are fighting for a greater share of the region’s oil wealth after decades of neglect. But the breakdown of law and order in the delta has allowed criminal gangs to thrive by kidnapping for ransom and stealing crude oil.

Nigeria’s most prominent militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), last month ended a five-month-old cease-fire and threatened more attacks on the oil sector.

The group is still holding two British oil workers kidnapped more than five months ago in the delta.

Writing by Randy Fabi; editing by Tim Pearce