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PORT HARCOURT, Feb. 1 (IRIN) - Four foreign oil workers were released o­n Monday after being held hostage for 19 days by ethnic Ijaw militants in Nigeria's turbulent Niger Delta.

But the militants, who are fighting to take control of the region's oil wealth, said the release was a purely humanitarian gesture and warned oil firms that their struggle to radically cut Nigeria's oil exports would continue.

The four foreigners were released unharmed, Stephen Dick, executive vice president of Royal Dutch Shell contractor Tidewater Inc., a US oil services company, said in a press statement.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a newcomer o­n the scene, has claimed responsibility for a string of oil installation attacks that have killed more than 12 people in the past two weeks.

But, the group said, "This release does not signify a ceasefire or softening of our position to destroy the oil export capability of the Nigerian government." Nigeria is Africa's top oil producer.

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