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AP Worldstream: Captors are threatening to kill kidnapped British girl, mother tells AP

NIYI BABADE,
Published: Jul 07, 2007

The sobbing mother of a British girl kidnapped in Nigeria says her 3-year old is under threat of death and living on bread and water. President Umaru Yar’Adua vowed the child would be released unharmed.

Officials in the state where gunmen seized Margaret Hill said security forces would not resort to violence to gain her liberation. The only fatalities amid the more than 200 kidnappings in Nigeria’s southern oil region have occurred when security forces battled hostage takers.

Yar’Adua, only in office since May 29 and already facing an international incident, was taking a personal interest in Margaret’s kidnapping, his office said.

The president “has directed the security agencies to make every possible effort to ensure that she is returned to her family unharmed and he remains in touch with all efforts being made to secure the girl’s release,” he said in a statement.

The girl was snatched by gunmen early Thursday as the car carrying her to school was stuck in heavy traffic. Her mother, Oluchi Hill, said she had received telephone calls from the captors.

Weeping during a brief interview Friday with The Associated Press through the concertina-wire topped gate of the family home, she said the kidnappers were feeding her daughter only bread and water.

She added that the captors were threatening to kill the girl and then come after her and the girl’s father, Mike Hill, a Briton who has lived in Nigeria for years.

Earlier, she told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the kidnappers told her to meet them in a town in Bayelsa State, in the Niger Delta region, but that neither she nor the police had been able to locate it.

“They say I can bring my husband to swap with the baby,” she told the BBC. “He wanted to go down for his baby but the police commander told him not to.”

The BBC reported that Mike Hill was ill and had been due to fly to Britain for unspecified treatment.

An official at the British High Commission in Nigeria said British authorities were in contact with local officials and the Hill family.

“We’re hopefully working towards a release,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with British Foreign Office policy.

The region’s main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, said its fighters would help search for the missing child, and echoed the revulsion many Nigerians feel toward the kidnapping of children.

“We will join in the hunt for the monsters who carried out this abduction and mete out adequate punishment for this crime,” said a spokesman for the group known as MEND in an e-mail message to the AP. “We abhor all forms of violence against women and children.”

MEND has carried out kidnappings to press its demands for a greater political voice and for the region that produces Nigeria’s oil to see more of the wealth it generates. But other kidnappings are purely criminal, aimed only at extracting ransom. There was no indication that politics played a part in the girl’s seizure.

It was the first abduction of a foreign child in the increasingly lawless oil region of Africa’s biggest oil producer.

Kidnappings in the region have focused mostly on foreign, male workers of international companies presumed to have the resources for ransom payments.

More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped since militants stepped up their activities against the oil industry in late 2005 and more than 100 expatriates have been seized this year alone as criminal gangs took up the practice.

Two hostages, one British and one Nigerian, died last year when military patrols crossed the hostage takers’ paths and gunbattles ensued.

“The use of force to free the British girl is ruled out, but we are doing our best to get her freed unharmed,” Rivers state Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu told reporters.

Hostage takers routinely issue threats over the welfare of their captives, but no hostage has ever been seriously injured by kidnappers while in captivity. More than a dozen foreigners are currently in captivity, including five seized Wednesday from a Royal Dutch Shell oil rig.

While two children of wealthy Nigerians have been seized in the restive Niger Delta in recent weeks, Margaret _ whose father is British and mother is Nigerian _ is the first seized from a foreign family. Both Nigerian children were released within days, without injury.

Associated Press writer Edward Harris in Lagos contributed to this report.

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