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Dutchman kidnapped from Shell gas site in Nigeria

Written by: Staff
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YENAGOA, Nigeria, July 6 (Reuters) Gunmen today abducted a Dutchman who was working on an unfinished Shell gas plant in Nigeria's southern Niger Delta following a community protest, police and a local leader said.

The incident is the latest in a series of kidnappings and attacks on oil facilities that have shut down a quarter of crude output from the world's eighth-biggest exporter since February.

''It happened this morning ... Two persons have been arrested in connection with the incident,'' said Hafiz Ringim, police commissioner of Bayelsa state where the plant is located.

A Shell spokesman in Lagos said the abducted man was employed by Westminster Dredging, a sub-contractor to the Nigerian arm of Shell working on the Gbaran gas gathering project. He had no further details about the incident.

A community leader in Gbaran said gunmen in two speedboats stormed a boathouse where the Dutchman was working and disarmed the police on guard.

The attack followed a protest by youths demanding jobs and investments for their community, said Nengi James, acting president of the Ijaw Youth Council which seeks to represent the delta's biggest ethnic group.

Attacks on oil facilities or abductions of oil workers by groups who accuse oil companies of failing to meet community development pledges are frequent in the Niger Delta.

The abduction of the Dutchman comes a day after gunmen tried to attack an offshore oil rig, also in Bayelsa state, and took captive a retired naval staff working as a security guard for Nigerian firm Conoil.

The impoverished delta, home to Africa's biggest oil industry, has been plagued by violence for years. Many local people feel cheated out of the wealth being pumped from their lands and creeks, and their resentment fuels militancy.

A breakdown in law and order in the impenetrable delta, combined with easy access to guns, struggles for control of a lucrative oil smuggling business and corruption among politicians and security forces have worsened the violence.

The militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which demands greater local control over oil revenues and the release of two jailed Ijaw leaders, has launched a series of bloody attacks this year.

There was no indication of any connection between MEND and the Dutchman's abduction. MEND has kidnapped 18 foreign oil workers this year but all have been released safely.

Most hostages in the Niger Delta are freed unharmed. Oil companies deny paying ransoms but activists say the practice is common and fuels the cycle of violence.

REUTERS SHB KP2316

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