Africa

Kidnapped Nigeria children freed in police operation

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Media captionParents celebrated and expressed their gratitude for the rescue operation

A group of 15 children kidnapped in Nigeria's Abia state earlier this week has been released, say police.

They were rescued by security forces from a forest hideout, Commissioner Jonathan Johnson told the BBC.

Armed men seized the children from a school bus in the town of Aba on Monday - they demanded a ransom of $130,000 (£81,500) but later lowered the amount.

Mr Johnson told Reuters no arrests had been made and he was not aware that any ransom money had been paid.

The children, who were aged between three and 10 years old, were rescued from a hideout in the forest in Ogwe-Asa in a joint military operation, he said.

They are in police custody and will be returned to their parents later in the day.

The BBC's Fidelis Mbah in Nigerian's oil-hub, Port Harcourt, says some 5,000 extra soldiers have been deployed to the area to prevent the kidnappers from escaping.

There are roadblocks in Aba city centre and many shops and businesses which had shut down following the abduction, fearing further attacks, remain closed, says our correspondent.

'Gold-diggers'

The governor of Abia state, Theodore Orji, had in recent weeks offered the gang leaders an amnesty in return for giving up weapons, but on Friday he said it was cancelled.

"These kidnappers are mere gold-diggers, whose resolution and trade ambition is to make easy money and to secure the betterment of themselves alone," he said.

"The government will not allow a few disgruntled elements in criminal garb to hold the entire state hostage.

"Government has been challenged, and we have decided to take the utmost measure available to implement the might and weight of government's forces."

President Goodluck Jonathan had described the kidnapping as "callous and cruel".

Abia state has seen a rise in hostage-taking recently and many middle-class Nigerians travel with armed escorts.

The hostages tend to be released harmed after a ransom is paid.

Kidnappings in the region are carried out by criminal gangs seeking a ransom, but also by armed groups demanding a fairer distribution of oil revenue in a country flowing with oil but where most people live on less than $1 a day.

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