West Africa rebels threaten to kill French oilmen 'one by one'
AFP - Saturday, November 1
YAOUNDE (AFP) - - West African rebels threatened Friday to kill 10 oil workers, including six Frenchmen, taken hostage in a pre-dawn pirate attack on an industry support vessel working off the coast of Cameroon.
A group opposed to Cameroon's takeover of the Bakassi Peninsula warned that the captives would be killed one by one from Monday unless the government agrees to reopen talks on the oil-rich territory's status.
"They are in good condition. We will provide them with a good treatment, but their conditions will deteriorate in three days," a fighter styling himself as Brigadier Akipee of the Bakassi Freedom Fighters told AFP by telephone.
"I will start killing them one by one on Monday, and I mean one by one," he said. "The people of Bakassi are suffering. They must be given the opportunity for self-determination. We want self-determination."
French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal reacted cautiously.
"We are aware of this claim, but we're trying to confirm its authenticity. We are doing everything to ensure the safety and freedom of our citizens as quickly as possible," he said.
"We have a fairly clear idea of who carried out this attack," he added.
Nigeria ceded Bakassi to Cameroon in August after a ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague brought to an end a 15-year dispute over the peninsula, including rights to its oil fields and fishing grounds.
The handover was completed peacefully, but some local groups opposed the change of sovereignty and threatened attacks.
The Bakassi Freedom Fighters, part of a shadowy Nigerian group dubbed the Niger Delta Defence and Security Council, has claimed two attacks that killed seven Cameroonian troops and a local official in June and July.
The Bourbon Sagitta was stormed as it took part in an operation to load crude oil onto a tanker in the Gulf of Guinea, near Cameroon's maritime frontier with Nigeria, the shipping firm Bourbon told AFP in Marseille.
"Armed individuals aboard two 'flying boats' boarded the ship and took 10 of the 15 members of the crew," a spokesman said, using the term employed in west Africa for the fast fibreglass skiffs typically used by pirate gangs.
Along with the Frenchmen, a Tunisian, a Senegalese and two Cameroonians were also taken, the company spokesman said. No one was thought to have been hurt in the raid, and the five remaining sailors have been safely recovered.
"The crisis centre and the French consulate in Douala are in contact with the company employing our citizens and with their families," the French foreign ministry in Paris said in a statement.
A diplomat in Yaounde said the attack bore the hallmarks of raids carried out by Nigerian pirates operating in the Niger Delta oilfields.
The largest armed group in that region, the Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta (MEND), told AFP in an email that while they were not involved in the kidnap they could intercede if asked.
"We have influence in securing the release of the hostages if requested to," a MEND spokesman said in an email.
The Bourbon Sagitta is a 2,000-tonne, 65-metre (213-foot) Anchor Handling Tug Supply Vessel, a type of ship used to haul anchors and drilling equipment in offshore oil fields. It was built in China's Dayang shipyard in 2006.
The Bakassi Peninsula is a 1,000-square-kilometre (386-square-mile) strip of coastal swamp jutting out from the Cameroon-Nigeria border into the oil- and fish-rich waters of the Gulf of Guinea.
Ownership of the area has not been clear since the colonial era, and in 1993 Nigerian troops occupied much of the zone and set up a local administration.
Cameroon protested and took its claim to the International Court of Justice in March 1994, starting a long legal battle that ended in October 2002 when the court -- the principal judicial organ of the United Nations -- awarded it sovereignty.
Nigeria did not dispute the judgment and, after a period of border demarcation punctuated by occasional deadly skirmishes, ceded control in August this year, to the dismay of many local communities.
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