Nigerian kidnappers release 6 foreign oil hostages

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ABUJA, Oct 30 (Reuters) Nigerian kidnappers have released six Indian and Polish hostages seized on October. 26 from an offshore oil production facility operated by Saipem, the Italian firm's parent company Eni said today.

Rebel group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had claimed responsibility for the attack on the Mystras vessel, which cut output by 50,000 barrels per day and helped lift oil prices to 92 dollars per barrel on Friday.

''Six Polish and Indian workers ... have been freed. The six workers are in good health,'' Eni said in a note on its Web site.

The Mystras is located 85 km offshore and is operated by Saipem and SBM Offshore .

Attacks by MEND since early last year had already cut Nigerian output by a fifth, contributing to rising oil prices and forcing thousands of foreigners to leave the Niger Delta, Nigeria's oil heartland.

MEND had stopped its attacks since President Umaru Yar'Adua took office in May promising to address grievances of poverty and neglect in the delta, but threatened to resume its raids after the arrest last month of one of its leaders in Angola.

The rebel group did not spell out its reasons for the Mystras raid. It has also claimed responsibility for an attack last week on the EA offshore oilfield, in which seven workers contracted to Royal Dutch Shell were abducted for two days.

Since Yar'Adua came to power, the government has had contacts with several militia leaders in the anarchic Niger Delta in the hope of holding a formal peace conference before the end of the year.

But militant representatives say they are frustrated with the slow pace of progress and organisation of the talks and they doubt the government's sincerity.

The militants demand ''resource control'' or power over oil revenues, which they say have been squandered or stolen by successive Nigerian governments to the detriment of the poor majority in the delta, whose region has been polluted.

But the situation is complicated by numerous armed gangs which have used the struggle for resource control as a cover to conduct kidnappings for ransom, robberies and other crimes.

REUTERS SG RK1448

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