Prayers for Margaret's release

2007-07-08 16:50

Port Harcourt - Worshippers crowded into Nigerian churches on Sunday to pray for the release of a kidnapped British toddler who was seized in the country's lawless south.

Reverend Christian Onuoha led hymns and prayers at the Assembly of God Church, calling on the kidnappers to release 3-year-old Margaret Hill, who was abducted on Thursday.

Her kidnappers have threatened to kill her unless a ransom is paid or her father takes her place.

"Whether she is in the forest or the creeks, she should be released," Onuoha intoned over the bowed heads of residents of the oil-hub of Port Harcourt, where Margaret lives with her British father Mike and his Nigerian wife Oluchi.

"The hearts of the parents are heavy."

Kidnapping has become common in the restive Niger river delta region, with about 150 foreigners seized so far this year alone.

Political concessions or ransom

Some are taken by militant gangs demanding political concessions for their oil-rich, but deeply impoverished region.

Many, however, are snatched by copycat gangs demanding large cash ransoms, which are frequently skimmed off by corrupt local officials acting as negotiators.

Margaret is the third child to be seized in six weeks.

The other two victims, both released unharmed after a few days in captivity, were the children of prominent Nigerian families.

On Saturday, Oluchi Hill confirmed that the kidnappers had contacted the family to demand a ransom, but said she feared they did not have enough money.

She also said that the kidnappers had demanded that Margaret's father exchange places with her, but that local police had rejected the idea.