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U.S. hostage in Nigeria makes plea

Published Feb. 25, 2006

Masked militants responsible for a wave of violence targeting Nigeria's oil industry showed off a 68-year-old American hostage Friday, who appealed to the international community to help secure his release.

The militants, who claim to be fighting for a greater share of the country's oil wealth for their impoverished region, seized Macon Hawkins of Texas and eight other foreign oil workers Feb. 18. Two other Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino were taken.

The 15-minute encounter Friday took place in the middle of the Niger Delta with the militants in five boats and journalists in two. The militants had invited journalists to meet with them in the river but hadn't said they would be bringing a hostage.

Sectarian violence that pits Muslims against Christians also continued to spread in Nigeria on Friday, claiming at least seven lives and pushing up the death toll in a week of killings to at least 127, residents and witnesses said.