Nigeria's main armed group MEND on Sunday freed one of two British hostages held captive for the past seven months, the militants said. The group says the second hostage will remain in custody "until further notice."
AFP - Nigeria's main armed group MEND on Sunday freed one of two British hostages held captive for the past seven months, the militants, security and British diplomatic sources said.
"The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) can confirm that the British hostage, Mr. Robin Barry Hughes regained his freedom about 1730 Hrs today, Sunday April 19, 2009 after he was handed over to contacts who in turn handed him over to his employers," the group said in a statement.
The second hostage, Matthew Macguire "will remain in our custody until further notice", the group said.
A security source in the oil hub of Port Harcourt earlier told AFP they had received Hughes and that he was receiving medical attention.
"He is in a stable condition," said the source.
The hostage's family in Britain also confirmed he was free.
Hughes, believed to be in his late 50s, and Maguire were part of a group of 27 oil workers including five foreign nationals and 22 Nigerians seized by gunmen who hijacked their vessel in September 2008.
MEND said then it had rescued the hostages from other gunmen and released all but the two British nationals.
It had vowed to hold the two Britons in the creeks of the volatile oil-rich Niger Delta until MEND's leader Henry Okah, who is facing treason and gun-running charges, is freed by Nigeria. Okah was arrested in 2007.
Earlier Sunday MEND said Hughes would be freed on health and age grounds. It said the release was at the behest of Okah.
"Credit for this release goes to Henry Okah who requested that Robin be released on compassionate ground," said MEND.
Hughes was released at the banks of Batholomew River by the Atlantic Ocean, for onward transmission to his employers Hydrodive, an offshore oil and gas services firm, said a security source.
Hughes' brother Simon told Britain's Sky News that his sibling was currently being treated in hospital and he had spoken to him on the telephone.
"His spirits are quite high. To talk to he was very conversant. Obviously he said that it had been very difficult and he's not particularly well, but he's okay," Simon Hughes said.
He said the past seven months had felt like "seven years," adding: "To hear my brother's voice again -- I was just absolutely elated."
In early February MEND, the most active armed group in the Niger Delta, said one of the Britons had taken "very ill" after contracting a "strange" disease.
At the time, it did not identify the ailing hostage, simply saying he was to be attended by a local doctor.
MEND released pictures of Hughes and Maguire in January, saying at the time the two were "alive and well".
Kidnappings are commonplace in southern Nigeria's oil region, with hundreds of people -- many but not all connected to the oil industry -- seized in the past three years alone.
Most are released unharmed after a few days or weeks, often after a ransom is paid. MEND said no ransom was paid in Hughes' case.
"This release is not a quid pro quo but a gesture that puts us on a higher pedestal than the Nigerian government," it said.
The unrest in the Niger Delta has drastically reduced Nigeria's oil output, with daily production currently hovering at around 1.78 million barrels, according to the International Energy Agency, compared to 2.6 million barrels in 2006.
Militants waging the attacks say they are fighting for a fair distribution of oil wealth to local people of the delta.
Date created : 2009-04-20