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Cameroon Militia Group Take 10 Hostage

A Cameroon militia group have taken 10 mostly foreign oil workers hostage threatening to kill the captives if demands for autonomy talks with the government are not met

A Cameroon militia group took 10 mostly foreign oil workers hostage Friday off this West African nation's coast, and threatened to kill the captives if demands for autonomy talks with the government are not met.

Militia commander Ebi Dari told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location that his group and an allied militia seized six French workers, two Cameroonians, one Senegalese and one Tunisian from the Bourbon Sagitta off Cameroon's coast early Friday.

"We want to talk to the Cameroon government," Dari said. He added: "If they think this is child's play, we are going to kill them in three days, one by one."

Stephanie Elbaz, spokeswoman for maritime services company Bourbon that owns the tug boat Bourbon Sagitta, said armed attackers riding speedboats boarded the vessel at an oil terminal early Friday and made off with the hostages — all Bourbon employees — leaving five other crew members aboard.

Dari, the leader of the Cameroon-based Niger Delta Defense and Security Council, said the attack had been carried out in conjunction with an allied militia, the Bakassi Freedom Fighters. Both groups have operated since 2002 in Bakassi, a tongue of oil-rich land that has been disputed between Cameroon and Nigeria for years.

Cameroon took full control of Bakassi in August after an arduous peace agreement, but militias including Dari's have waged low-level attacks on Cameroon troops. In the past they have said Bakassi should have more autonomy, and possibly full independence from Cameroon.

Dari said Bakassi had been severely neglected by the government and he demanded more development and schools there. Many people in the region are fishermen who live in huts with no running water or electricity.

Asked about the condition of the hostages, Dari said they were "fine."

The volatile Bakassi region neighbors Nigeria's troubled oil-rich Niger Delta, where oil-worker kidnappings carried out by Nigerian militias claiming a greater share of oil wealth are commonplace.

On Wednesday, Bourbon suspended operations in the Bonny River region of Nigeria after armed men boarded one of its boats there. After spending several hours aboard the Ajax, the men made off with material and crew members' personal property, a statement said. None of the crew was injured in the incident.

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said ministry officials had identified the French hostages but that for security reasons would not provide any details to the media. He said France had "quite a precise idea" about the identity of the kidnappers and their goals but declined to divulge them to the media.

Asked about a media report that the kidnappers had addressed a demand for ransom to the French government, Nadal said "we have learned of the demands and we are working on verifying the authenticity of the demands."

Though Friday's incident appeared to have more to do with local militants than common pirates, West Africa's oil-rich Gulf of Guinea is among the world's most-pirated waters, along with the shipping lanes near Somalia and Indonesia.

Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Malaysia, said Cameroon had suffered pirate attacks in the past but there have not been many attacks. He said pirate attacks were far more common in neighboring Nigeria, which is "fighting not just pirates but militants as well."

In Nigeria, most hostage-takings that occur on the water are related to the oil-industry and militants' demands for a greater share of oil wealth; in Somalia, crews are hijacked for ransoms. In both cases, most are eventually released unharmed.

Nations on the Gulf of Guinea are discussing ways to thwart the pirates and militants, including a shared naval force, but little headway has been made. Foreign militaries, including the United States and Britain, help train naval forces in the region.

Author: Jo Amey