July 5, 2007 / 9:24 AM / in 11 years

Gunmen kidnap 3-year-old British girl in Nigeria

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (Reuters) - Gunmen kidnapped a three-year-old British girl in the Nigerian oil city of Port Harcourt while she was on her way to school on Thursday morning, police said.

Gunmen kidnapped a three-year-old British girl in the Nigerian oil city of Port Harcourt while she was on her way to school on Thursday morning, police said. REUTERS/Graphics

A police spokeswoman said the child was snatched from the car in which she was being driven as it was stuck in traffic. The Foreign Office confirmed the abduction.

“A three-year old British child, Margaret Hill, was abducted in Port Harcourt this morning. We do not know who took her,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

“We’re in contact with her parents and are providing assistance. High Commission officials are in contact with Nigerian authorities. We call for her immediate and safe release,” she said.

Kidnappings for ransom are very common in Port Harcourt, located in the oil-producing Niger Delta in southern Nigeria, although abductions of children are rare. Hostages are nearly always released unharmed.

About 200 adult expatriates have been kidnapped in the Niger Delta since the start of 2006 and 15 are still being held by various armed groups. Most abductions are for ransom although a few have been politically motivated.

Several armed groups in the Niger Delta are campaigning for “resource control” or the right of impoverished local communities to gain greater control over oil revenues from their lands. These groups have sometimes kidnapped oil workers in the name of the struggle for resource control.

But abductions have become more and more frequent as copycat kidnappers have taken advantage of the breakdown of law and order in the delta to extort hefty ransoms.

Authorities frequently deplore the “commercialisation” of kidnappings but local human rights activists say some corrupt politicians get a cut of the profits.

When the current wave of kidnappings started, in early 2006, most people targeted were oil workers, but armed groups have become more and more indiscriminate, seizing construction and telecom workers as well as small business owners.

Thursday’s child abduction is the third this year, according to local media.

Nigerian newspapers reported last month that the three-year-old child of a member of the Rivers state House of Assembly was kidnapped and handed back to the family unharmed in exchange for money. There were also reports earlier in the year of another child abduction for ransom.

Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon in Abuja and Peter Graff in London

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