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The Independent (UK): British oil worker held in Nigeria as girl, 3, given clean bill of health

By Thair Shaikh
Published: 10 July 2007

A British oil worker has been kidnapped by an armed gang in southern Nigeria, the Foreign Office said last night.

His capture from an oil production barge in the oil-rich Niger Delta region came just hours after the parents of three-year-old Margaret Hill were celebrating her release after four days in captivity.

The Briton was captured alongside a Bulgarian colleague. Both are consultants working for Exprotech (Nigeria), part of the UK-based Expro Group. They were on the Agbani barge in Calabar, near Cross River State, when gunmen on speedboats attacked them at 8pm local time.

It was not clear which group was responsible. However, the barge, which is owned and operated by a Nigerian company, is in the east of the delta which is usually safe and peaceful.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We can confirm that a British national was one of two foreign workers abducted on the evening of 8 July.” He added that consular officials were in touch with the missing man’s family, and that a decision had been made not to make his name public.

A Bulgarian foreign ministry official confirmed one of its nationals was also taken hostage.

Exprotech (Nigeria) said in a statement: “[The company] is supporting the operator and authorities in Nigeria to bring about the safe recovery of both men.”

Doctors gave Margaret Hill a clean bill of health, her father Michael, 60, said yesterday. The girl had been released on Sunday evening covered in mosquito bites after four days in captivity.

Mr Hill, an oil industry consultant who has been in Nigeria since 1973 and is originally from Murton, Co Durham, also said his daughter appeared to have got over the ordeal.

Margaret was kidnapped on Thursday by an armed gang as she was being driven to school in Port Harcourt. The gang smashed the car’s windows and stabbed the driver as he tried to protect the three-year-old.

The girl’s parents denied last night they had paid a £38,000 ransom, saying that intense negotiations by state security services had secured her release.

Yesterday, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), a major rebel group, said it was not involved. “This criminal act against a minor was perpetrated by common thieves and, even as they have released the child, I promise you their punishment is unspeakable,” a Mend spokesman said.

Two hostages, one British and one Nigerian, died last year when military patrols crossed the hostage takers’ paths and a gunbattle ensued. More than a dozen foreigners are currently in captivity, including five seized last Wednesday from a Royal Dutch Shell oil rig.

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/africa/article2750440.ece

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