Gunmen kidnap French oil worker in Nigeria

Gunmen seized a French oil worker in Nigeria's restive southern petroleum-producing region, police said Thursday.

The latest victim in a spate of hostage takings, an employee for French oil company Total SA, was taken late Wednesday, said Rivers State police Spokeswoman Irejua Barasua.

The French Embassy in Nigeria said the 59-year-old engineer, who is married to a Nigerian woman and has lived in the country for many years, was seized as he arrived at his home in a suburb of Port Harcourt.

Kidnappers seized a woman Wednesday from the Philippines in Nigeria's oil-producing region, police said. She is the first known female taken captive in an upsurge of violence roiling Africa's oil giant.

Unknown attackers in Port Harcourt grabbed the woman Wednesday as she got out of her car in the city, Rivers state Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu said. Earlier, hostage takers released a British man in the Niger Delta region.

More than 100 captives have been taken in the region since militants stepped up their attacks on Nigeria's oil industry last year, but until Wednesday there had been no known female kidnap victims.

Thirty foreigners are in captivity in southern Nigeria, including 26 Filipinos. One Filipino was seized Tuesday in an attack on his convoy.

Hostages are generally released unharmed after a ransom is paid, although two captives died in gunbattles between their kidnappers and security forces.

Also Wednesday, kidnappers released a British oil-worker after the man taken in a raid last month fell ill, officials said.

The Briton was abducted by unknown assailants Jan. 23 along with an American in Port Harcourt, in Nigeria's southern oil region, where the pair worked for an oil-services firm.

A state spokesman, Emmanuel Okah, said the man had been freed and was being treated in a hospital. He had no details on his illness, which he said prompted the release.

The British Embassy could not immediately confirm the man's release. There was no immediate word on the American's fate.

A year of intensified violence in the Niger Delta, where all of the crude in Africa's biggest oil producer is pumped, has cut daily output by nearly a quarter, helping send oil prices toward new heights.

Despite the region's enormous oil deposits, most of its people are poor. Militant groups say they are fighting to force the federal government to give their region a greater share in oil wealth, reports AP.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has called a high-level meeting for Thursday to address the violence, which has grown in recent weeks ahead of the April general election.

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and one of the world's top 10 exporters.

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