More woes for Filipinos in Nigeria

By Associated Press
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All 24 Filipinos aboard a ship seized by unidentified gunmen in Nigeria are believed to have been kidnapped, the Philippines foreign department has said.

Nigerian officials previously said only six of the Filipino crew of the Nigerian-flagged cargo ship Baco had been abducted, but Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos told a news conference the shipping firm's local manning agents here "handed to me a letter that contains new information.”

“We are getting a clearer picture of what happened. The ship has a 24-man all Filipino crew. They were moving to the Atlantic Ocean to the Niger Delta then armed men boarded the ship and took 17 Filipinos and brought them to a village in Wari,” he said Tuesday.

“Their ship is now lying in anchorage off the coast of Wari. There is one captain, a chief officer, engine officers, chief engineer, two cooks and the rest are ordinary seamen.

“Therefore, there is reasonable belief that the entire crew of 24 has been held hostage. Because as of this time, the shipowner does not have radio contact on the ship.”

Seven officers are thought to have been kept on the ship, with the crew of 17 taken off by the kidnappers.

Conejos said the gunmen"s demands are unknown, and that Manila has dispatched its consul in that country to the local government area to consult with a negotiator appointed by the local government.

“Discussions are ongoing for the safe release of the seamen,” Conejos added.

“As of today, all Filipinos are safe and sound. There is food on the ship and they are being provided food from the village. Food and water is adequate and the seamen are treated well.”

“We are very optimistic that they will be released. We have been getting 100 percent cooperation from the government of Nigeria,” he added.

Baco is Nigerian flagship but German-owned with an office in Hamburg.

The latest kidnapping marks the second time Filipinos have been held hostage in the region in the past six months.

It prompted Philippine President Gloria Arroyo on Monday to order workers not to travel to Nigeria.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's spokeswoman Remi Oyo earlier told AFP the Nigerian foreign minister would explain to the Filipino mission there that everything was being done “to ensure that those that have been seized get back home safe and sound.”

Oyo said Nigeria saw the Philippines as a “friendly nation” and that Arroyo's travel ban would be handled “in a friendly manner”.

She further said that Obasanjo “is very concerned and unhappy about the situation and he has said that his government will no longer continue to treat the hostage-takers with kid gloves”.

Philippine foreign ministry spokesman Ed Malaya told AFP that Nigeria was one of the biggest employers of Filipino workers in Africa, with some 3,900 Filipinos employed here at the end of 2006. AFP

AU confirms Sudanese bombings

The African Union confirmed Monday that Sudan's air force bombed Darfur villages last week, attacks that violated a cease-fire.

Rebel leaders in Darfur had reported that the government carried out air raids in northern Darfur, but the Sudanese military had denied the claim.

“Preliminary investigations by (the African Union) have confirmed that the aerial bombings indeed took place” against the village of Anka and in the region of Wadi Korma last week, said the African Union, which has peacekeepers in the war-ravaged zone.

The AU did not mention any casualties. But UN officials said it had reports of two dead.

The bombings, which breach UN Security Council resolutions and a peace agreement, came after the Sudanese government vowed to adhere to a new truce brokered by visiting New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson earlier this month.

The AU complained that the government bombed North Darfur “when efforts are being made to re-energise the peace process” by broadening support among rebels for the Darfur peace accord signed last May.

The United States and African Union are trying to get Darfur's fractious rebel groups to enter peace talks in a bid to end the continuous violence in the war-torn region of western Sudan.

The government signed the peace deal with one insurgent leader, but other rebels refused and the AU says there are now at least a dozen rebel factions in Darfur.

More than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million fled their homes in Darfur since 2003, when rebels took arms against the central government, accusing it of neglect.

Khartoum is accused of having responded with indiscriminate air raids against civilian villages, and by unleashing the janjaweed paramilitary groups blamed for the bulk of the conflict's atrocities.