Nigeria Bristling with heavy weapons, masked militants responsible for a wave of violence targeting Nigeria's oil industry showed off a 68-year-old American hostage Friday who appealed to the international community to help secure his release.
Macon Hawkins, of Kosciusko, Texas, said he turns 69 on Wednesday and wants "freedom" for his birthday.
The militants, who claim to be fighting for a greater local share of the country's oil wealth for their impoverished region, seized Hawkins and eight other foreign oil workers from a barge in the Niger Delta's mangrove swamps Feb. 18.
The 15-minute encounter Friday took place in the middle of the river with the militants in five boats and journalists in two.
Hawkins seemed upbeat despite being surrounded by gunmen standing over him with Kalashnikov automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and tripod-mounted machine guns.
He repeated militant demands that neutral third parties like the United Nations or President Bush get involved in negotiating the release of the hostages, who also include two other Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino.