Police: Three Kidnapped in Southeastern Nigeria

LAGOS Mar 19, 2007 (AP)

Two foreigners and one Nigerian were kidnapped in southeastern Nigeria over the weekend, police officials said Monday, raising fears that a spate of abductions in the country's volatile, oil-rich Niger delta region was spreading to other areas.

The two Asians, whose nationality and employer were not immediately provided, were taken along with a Nigerian colleague Saturday, Anambra state police chief John Haruna said. Haruna said he could not recall another instance of foreigners being kidnapped in Anambra.

The kidnappers had not made any demands, he said.

"They've seen what the boys in the Niger delta are doing and they are copying from them," he added, referring to a recent rash of kidnappings in the volatile south, where more than 60 foreigners have been taken so far this year.

Hostages are usually released unharmed after the payment of a ransom, but some have been killed recently in shoot-outs between the kidnappers and security forces.

The police suspect a separatist group, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, or MASSOB, were behind the kidnappings and may have received assistance from militant groups in the river delta, Haruna said.

"We even suspect that MASSOB might have used some of (the delta militants), either their arms or their training or personnel to start off. Now that they have done it two or three times they have become experts on their own."

Kidnappings in the Niger delta have traditionally been carried out by militants seeking a greater share of the country's oil revenue for their impoverished region or to secure large cash payments from wealthy oil companies.

MASSOB representatives were not immediately available for comment. They have repeatedly said in the past that their organization is nonviolent.

Several prominent Nigerians were kidnapped in Anambra state earlier this year. Kidnappings and violence have generally been rising across the country before next month's elections. Many of the gangs which carry out the crimes also work as enforcers for local politicians.

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.