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09 Jul 2007 16:23
The main rebel group in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta said on Monday the abduction of a three-year-old British girl was unrelated to political violence and the armed struggle over oil revenues would continue.
Margaret Hill was released on Sunday night after four days in the hands of unknown ransom seekers who snatched her from the car in which she was being driven to school on July 5 in Port Harcourt, the delta’s main city.
“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,” said the rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend).
“This incident changes nothing amongst the groups truly agitating for resource control in the Niger Delta,” said the group’s spokesperson, who uses the pseudonym Jomo Gbomo.
Abductions of adult expatriates are so frequent in the Niger Delta that they rarely make headlines in Nigerian newspapers, but the kidnapping of Margaret Hill drew outrage from the government as well as from politically motivated armed groups.
About 200 foreigners have been snatched in the delta since the start of 2006, of whom at least 14 are still being held.
Security contractors working for oil firms said two more expatriates were kidnapped on Sunday night in an attack on an oil facility operated by Nigerian firm Monipulo off Cross River state, an eastern area of the delta that is usually peaceful.
Cross River authorities said the attack took place in Cameroonian waters off the Bakassi peninsula, which Nigeria last year handed over to Cameroon. They had no further details and the nationalities of the hostages could not be confirmed.
A small number of abductions in the Niger Delta are carried out by Mend and other rebel groups seeking to press their demand for impoverished delta communities to gain power over oil revenues that they regard as their birthright.
But in the vast majority of cases, the kidnappers were ransom seekers.
Both the government and the rebels condemn the commercialisation of hostage takings.
Local activists said the case of Margaret Hill had further strengthened an existing consensus among genuine militants that abductions for ransom had spiralled out of control.
“This has really put moral pressure to bring the hostage takings to a manageable level,” said Oyeinfie Jonjon of the Ijaw Youth Council, which campaigns for the rights of the delta’s most populous ethnic group.
President Umaru Yar’Adua, who took power on May 29 promising urgent efforts to quell violence in the delta, has recognised that lack of development and job opportunities in the region were at the root of the crisis.
The stakes are high for the Nigerian government because rebel attacks on oil facilities have cut Nigeria’s output by over 20%.
Yar’Adua and his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, who originates from the delta, have made overtures to the rebels and set up a Peace and Reconciliation Committee.
Some of the militant groups, including Mend, which was behind most of the attacks that cut oil production, have expressed interest in a dialogue with the government but have also said they were disappointed by Yar’Adua’s early moves.—Reuters
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