Nigerian militants have released Roberto Dieghi, one of three Italian oil workers they took hostage last month, the Italian foreign ministry said on Thursday according to ANSA news agency.
Dieghi, two other Italians and a Lebanese national, all workers for Italian oil firm Agip, were seized by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) on December 7 from one of the company's facilities in the southern state of Bayelsa.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the group sent out an e-mail message that Dieghi may be released later in the day, adding: "It is more in response to our negotiations than on account of his poor health".
Earlier this month MEND said that it was concerned about Dieghi's health but then said he was making a good recovery.
MEND said in a further message yesterday that it hoped to trade Dieghi for several of its members in Nigerian custody, and would release him to a senior official of the Bayelsa State government.
The group had been demanding the release of former Bayelsa State governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, jailed on corruption charges, as well as separatist leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and other detainees from the region.
The group also wants a larger share for southern Nigerians in oil revenues, along with compensation for communities affected by oil pollution.
Some 37 Nigerian troops and dozens of Nigerian oil workers were killed by the militants last year while more than 60 foreigners, mostly oil workers, were kidnapped.
Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, which derives more than 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from oil, lost more than half a million barrels a day last year to unrest in the delta region.