09 27 2016
  10:12 pm  
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WARRI, Nigeria — Four people from a Seattle-based film crew and a Nigerian man accompanying them who were arrested and accused of traveling illegally in restive southern Nigeria, have been released, according to a statement from Sen. Maria Cantwell's office.
Security forces fighting militants in the Niger Delta consider much of the vast wetland region a military zone and have barred outsiders from traveling there without express consent by authorities.
Nigerian Brig. Gen. Wuyep Rintip said the group was seized Saturday for flouting the ban and were to be flown to the capital, Abuja. 
A U.S. official in Nigeria said the detainees had been given consular assistance. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing prohibitions on dealings with the media, said no further details could be given due to privacy concerns. While they are out of custody, they must complete final processing with authorities on Friday, according to Cantwell.
According to a news release issued Sunday in Seattle, those who were detained are Sandi Cioffi, director of the documentary ``Sweet Crude;'' Tammi Sims, Cliff Worsham and Sean Porter, also part of the crew, and Joel Bisina, a peace mediator and founder of Niger Delta Professionals for Development in Warri.
The Americans "entered the country legally on April 5th, having notified authorities about their intentions to film and to make a visit to a library they had helped build,'' the independent film-making company said in the release.
A lawyer was retained for the group but was denied contact with them, as well as information on charges, according to the release.
Various foreigners have been picked up in the Niger Delta in recent months as security forces have stepped up efforts to quell unrest in the region.
Several foreigners, including two documentary filmmakers, were expelled from the country on alleged visa violations. An American aid worker, long a resident in Nigeria, was arrested with those filmmakers and was charged with spying. The charges were later dropped and she was released.
Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, pumps its crude from the Niger Delta, which remains deeply impoverished despite the natural bounty. Armed groups roam the region of creeks and swamps, stealing crude oil for resale and engaging in other criminal activities.
Some gunmen also launch militant attacks seeking to pressure the government to release their leaders and send more government-controlled oil revenues to the anarchic area. Their attacks have trimmed nearly one quarter of Nigeria's daily crude output, helping to send oil prices soaring to historic highs in global markets.
The government considers all the gunmen criminals.

—The Associated Press

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