Philippines' Arroyo thanks Nigerian leader after hostages freed

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo on Wednesday thanked her Nigerian counterpart Olusegun Obasanjo for the safe recovery of 24 of 26 Filipinos kidnapped in the West African state's restive oil regions.

"The released ship crew are all well and may soon be reunited with their families," Arroyo said in a statement.

"I would like to personally thank Nigerian President Obasanjo for taking a direct hand in the release of our nationals even as I pray for the eventual release of those still held."

The 24 Filipino seamen were freed on Tuesday. They had been seized on January 20 by gunmen from a Nigerian-flagged, German-owned cargo ship Baco-Liner 2 off the coast of Nigeria.

The Nigerian government gave no details of the deal that led to the release of the hostages, saying only that they were being taken back by ferry to Warri, the capital of Delta State.

Although it is still unclear which group was responsible for the seizure, a high-profile militant group in Niger Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), blamed a rival group.

The fate of two other Filipinos taken hostage last week was still unknown.

A Filipina woman was abducted on February 7 in nearby Port Harcourt in Rivers State, while a Filipino employee of Netco Dietsmann -- the Nigerian arm of a Monaco-based oil services company -- was seized from a company car heading for the airport in Owerri, the capital of Imo State a day earlier.

After the 24 seamen were kidnapped, President Arroyo ordered a ban on the deployment of Filipino workers to Nigeria.

Nigeria is one of the biggest employers of Filipino workers in Africa, with some 3,900 Filipinos employed there at the end of 2006.

The Philippines is one of Asia's biggest exporters of manpower, with an estimated eight million of its citizens working as maids, seafarers, oil rig workers and in other labor-intensive jobs.



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