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3 Dutch hostages freed unharmed in Nigeria

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Three Dutch citizens held hostage in Nigeria for nearly a week have been freed unharmed, officials in the Netherland said Sunday.

The two men and a woman were freed Saturday evening and handed to the Dutch ambassador, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Doornewaard said. She added that the Dutch government was not involved in any negotiations to free the hostages, Erhard Leffers, Jandries Groenendijk and Marianne Vos.

The three were abducted May 4 in the oil-rich Niger River Delta region while on their way to inspect a hospital built by Chevron Corp., Bayelsa state police spokesman Alex Akhigbe said last week. It wasn't immediately clear what their link to the hospital and Chevron was, or why they had traveled without police escort despite the delta region being notorious for kidnappings.

Akhigbe said Sunday the hostages were "rescued" and two people had been arrested in connection with the kidnapping.

Kidnappings for ransom are common in the southern Niger Delta, and the incident was unrelated to the kidnapping of schoolgirls by Islamic extremists who operate mainly in the northeast of the country, though they also have threatened to attack oil facilities.

Islamic terror group Boko Haram has drawn worldwide condemnation for abducting more than 300 schoolgirls nearly a month ago. An international effort to release the 276 girls still missing is underway.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans welcomed news that the hostages had been freed.

"A tense time for those who were kidnapped and their loved ones is over," he wrote on his Facebook page.

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Associated Press writer Hilary Uguru in Warri, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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