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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abducted RusAl Workers 'Safe'

For MTRusAl acquired Nigerian aluminum firm Alscon in February for $250 million.
The kidnappers of six Russian workers at a RusAl plant in Nigeria contacted the company Monday, but officials and diplomats at the Russian Embassy in the country would not say whether they had made any ransom demands.

The kidnapping comes amid a wave of abductions that has engulfed the country's oil-rich Niger Delta area and threatened its economy.

Using explosives, a group of militants burst into a residential compound for RusAl employees in the town of Ikot Abasi early Sunday, killing a Nigerian driver and carting away six Russian workers in two minivans.

The Russians work at the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria, or Alscon, which is controlled by United Company RusAl, the world's largest aluminum producer.

"So far, I can say we were able to establish contact with the kidnappers," Viktor Goncharov, a counselor at the Russian Embassy in Nigeria, told Interfax on Monday.

Goncharov said the group had contacted him on his mobile phone but would not say whether the group made any demands. He said, however, that the Russians were "safe and feeling well."

"We are working together with the authorities in Nigeria to secure the release of our workers," RusAl spokeswoman Vera Kurochkina said by telephone Monday.

She would not elaborate on concrete steps being taken, adding that the hostages' well-being could well depend on any information released.

Dan Suleiman, Nigeria's ambassador in Moscow, said after talks Monday with the Foreign Ministry that the two countries were working together to secure the hostages' release, Interfax reported.

Russian Ambassador Igor Melikhov said earlier Monday that there was "a high probability that the kidnapping was carried out for a ransom."

RusAl sealed a $250 million deal to acquire a 77.5 percent stake in Alscon in Akwa Ibom from the Nigerian government in February. The acquisition is expected to add almost 150,000 tons annually to RusAl 's production capacity.

RusAl announced in March that it would invest an additional $150 million over the next three years to complete, refurbish and modernize the plant.

The Niger Delta is home to Africa's largest oil industry, but the twin factors of poverty and corruption have made investing in the area a security risk and turned the region into a no man's land where abductions of expatriate workers has become routine.

"Most of the attacks are by groups seeking ransom money and the chances are the Russians will be released unharmed after the extortion," a Nigerian businessman living in the delta area said by telephone Monday. "These are people who felt they could not compete otherwise and have stepped up attacks to get their own share of the national cake."

The attacks have prompted thousands of foreign employees to leave the area and led to oil production falling by one-third.

Sunday's abductions took to 30 the number of foreigners currently being held by different armed groups in the Delta area.

Nigeria's newly elected president, Umaru Yar'Adua, told visiting U.S. Senator Bill Nelson on Saturday that he would hold a meeting with all stakeholders in the Niger Delta on Monday.

He said he would make development of the area a national priority, and would work with the country's National Assembly to find a lasting solution to the problem.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, an umbrella organization of militant groups, said last week it would suspend attacks on oil facilities as a goodwill gesture ahead of talks. The movement on Saturday released six expatriates working with Chevron after 33 days in captivity.

But four expatriates working for Schlumberger were abducted the same day from Port Harcourt.