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Hostage takers threaten to kill 3-year-old British girl kidnapped in Nigeria, mother says
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    PORT HARCOURT — The sobbing mother of a British girl kidnapped in Nigeria said Friday her 3-year old is under threat of death and living on bread and water, as police promised to free her without resorting to force.
    Hostages in Nigeria’s southern oil region have died only when security forces battled kidnappers, and the regional police commissioner said security forces would not use violence to free Margaret Hill.
    ‘‘The use of force to free the British girl is ruled out, but we are doing our best to get her freed unharmed,’’ said the commissioner, Felix Ogbaudu.
    The mother of the girl, snatched by gunmen Thursday as the car carrying her to school was stuck in traffic, said the captors had called the family.
    The kidnappers were feeding her daughter only bread and water, Oluchi Hill said, weeping during a brief interview with The Associated Press through the concertina-wire topped gate of the family home.
    Oluchi Hill said the captors were threatening to kill the girl and then come after her and the girl’s father, Mike Hill, who has lived in the country for years and runs a bar popular with expatriates in Port Harcourt, the country’s main oil center.
    Earlier, the mother 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 could find 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.
    Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua ‘‘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,’’ his office said in a statement.
    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 Ministry policy.
    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.
    The region’s main militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, said its fighters would help in the search for the missing child, and echoed the revulsion of many Nigerians at kidnapping children.
    ‘‘We will join in the hunt for the monsters who carried out this abduction and mete out adequate punishment for this crime,’’ a spokesman for the group known as MEND wrote in an e-mail to the AP. ‘‘We abhor all forms of violence against women and children.’’
    MEND has carried out kidnappings to press their demands for a greater political voice and that the region that produces Nigeria’s oil 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 — 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.
    Two hostages, one British and one Nigerian, died last year when military patrols crossed the hostage takers’ paths and gunbattles ensued.
    In one instance, the kidnappers forced the British man to stand up in the vessel and show himself to the security forces as a human shield, private security officials say. Gunfire sparked anyway, and the man was killed.
    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.
    Two children of wealthy Nigerians were seized in recent weeks and released within days without injury.
    ———
    Associated Press writer Edward Harris in Lagos contributed to this report.

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