Nigeria: 2 Germans kidnapped in oil-rich region

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen abducted two Germans who sought respite along a beach in Nigeria's oil-rich and violent southern region, an area long targeted by kidnappers ranging from criminal gangs to armed militants, a private security official said Monday.

The official said the two men visited a beach Sunday along the Imo River in Abia state, near the oil-rich swamps and creeks of the Niger Delta. The two men had started walking back to their car where their driver waited when gunmen seized them, the official said.

Militants in the delta have targeted oil workers for kidnapping in the past during their campaign to bring more oil money to a region that suffered environmental damage and economic neglect over 50 years of production. However, criminal gangs increasingly target wealthy Nigerians and politicians for kidnappings, as well as foreigners who stumble into their path.

The two Germans kidnapped apparently traveled to the area, long known for its instability, without any guards.

It's "likely opportunist abduction," the security official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as his company bars him from speaking to reporters.

Militant groups in the Niger Delta have attacked pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company employees and fought government troops since January 2006. The attacks have increased global oil prices greatly in the past and could in the future, as Nigeria exported more than 1 million barrels of crude a day to America in December alone.

President Umaru Yar'Adua negotiated a cease-fire with militants with a promise of more government oil money coming to the region. The government also began offering cash payoffs to former fighters to keep them from carrying out new attacks in the maze of creeks and oil fields running through the delta.

That amnesty deal faltered after Yar'Adua became ill and hasn't been seen publicly since November. Militants detonated two car bombs March 15 during a newspaper-sponsored discussion about the amnesty program, marking what appears to be the effort's collapse.