First kidnapping of foreign child in oil-rich delta may indicate new tactic by rebels.
Umaru Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s president, called on Friday for Margaret to be released.
In a statement he said: “President Yar’Adua… appeals once again for a total cessation of all acts of violence in the region, the release of little Miss Margaret Hill and all other hostages.
“He 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.
“The president’s thoughts and best wishes are with her parents and relatives in their anguish which he hopes will be speedily relieved by her safe return.”
Margaret was snatched at gunpoint by a group of armed men on Thursday in Port Harcourt in the southern Rivers state as she was being dropped off for school.
The British foreign office, which has called for the girl’s “immediate safe release” said that it was in touch with the Nigerian authorities and the girl’s family over the case.
Emmanuel Okah, a spokesman for the Rivers state government, said that it was working with the relevant security agents to ensure the safety of the girl and secure her release as soon as possible.
Mike Okiro, Nigeria’s national police chief, was in Port Harcourt where he held a security meeting with Celestine Omehia, the state governor and senior security officers.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction, but the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), the most prominent armed group in the region, vowed to find the perpetrators.
Jomo Gbomo, a spokesmen for the Mend, which ended a month-long truce this week, said: “It is an abomination. We will search for the abductors and mete out suitable punishment at the appropriate time.”
Mend is just one of many groups carry out kidnappings and attacks in the Niger Delta.
Some claim to be fighting for a larger share of oil resources for locals, but many are armed gangs only seeking ransom money.
More than 200 foreigners have been seized since the start of 2006 in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s main oil producing region.
The unrest has reduced the country’s 2.6mln barrels per day output by around a quarter.
In May, a foreign child was kidnapped and released four days later.