The leader of West African rebels holding 10 oil workers, including six French nationals, in the Bakassi region of Cameroon said today his group had "changed its mind" about plans to kill them. "We are not going to kill them. We have changed our mind after a meeting," Ebi Dari, the chief of the Bakassi Freedom Fighters, told AFP. The group, opposed to Cameroon's takeover of the Bakassi Peninsula, had threatened yesterday to kill the hostages next week "one by one" unless the government agreed to reopen talks on the oil-rich territory's status.
Mr Dari said: "There is no deadline any more. But we will not release them until we get what we want: talks with the Cameroonian government. We want to see them, we want to speak with them." Mr Dari said he had had numerous contacts with journalists but none with the Cameroonian or the French governments, "with nobody we wanted to talk to." The 10 oil workers ? six French, two Cameroonians, one Tunisian and one Senegalese ? were seized in a predawn pirate attack on an industry support vessel working off the coast of Cameroon.
Mr Dari added that the hostages were being well treated "and we will continue to treat them well. The hostages are with us in Bakassi." Nigeria ceded Bakassi to Cameroon in August after a ruling by the International Court of Justice 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 group dubbed the Niger Delta Defence and Security Council, claimed responsibility in June and July for attacks that killed seven Cameroonian troops and a local official. *AFP