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21 are kidnapped in Nigerian delta

After 3 attacks, nine are released

Oil workers were free again yesterday at Port Harcourt, Nigeria, after gunmen seized them from an offshore oil facility. (dan udoh/associated press)

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria -- At least 21 workers, most of them foreigners, were kidnapped yesterday in three separate attacks in Nigeria's oil- rich delta region that left a Nigerian soldier dead, officials and witnesses said. Eight foreigners and a Nigerian driver were later freed.

The main militant group in the region claimed responsibility for one of the attacks, on a ship anchored off Port Harcourt, and later said it had released the eight workers kidnapped there. The group, however, denied it was behind separate raids on a power plant and bar.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said in an e-mail the hostages were on their way back to Port Harcourt by boat, and a local official confirmed that authorities planned to receive them at the state government headquarters.

Twelve others seized separately in the attacks remained in captivity.

Italian oil firm Eni SpA confirmed that hostages were taken from a boat managed by its subsidiary and anchored about 55 miles off the coast of the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt. The company said an Australian, a Briton, two Croats, a Pole, and a Romanian were among those seized.

Elsewhere, eight Filipinos, three South Koreans, and one Nigerian were kidnapped from a South Korean company's power plant construction site, Daewoo Engineering and Construction Co. said in a statement. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said the Nigerian driver was later freed.

Major Sagir Musa, spokesman for a joint security task force in the region, said a Nigerian soldier was killed in the attack on the power station.

In nearby Delta state, a Dutch oil worker was kidnapped from a bar in Warri, a witness said yesterday. Flora Achudumoe, who owns the bar near an oil company compound in the city center, said the man was taken while he was watching a soccer match.

Such seizures are common in Africa's largest oil producer, where militants and criminals use them as leverage against the government, or to extract cash.

The kidnappings bring the total number of foreigners kidnapped in the Niger delta so far this year to 93, surpassing the figure for all last year for the first time. In 2006, more than 80 foreigners were seized in the region.