Port Harcourt, Nigeria — 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. Police promised to free the child 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.