Hundreds of kidnapped villagers, mostly mothers and children, freed in Nigeria

One hundred kidnapped villagers in northwestern Nigeria were released on Tuesday, police said after negotiations with their captors who had held them hostage for 42 days.

Heavily armed gangs – called bandits by locals – have long ravaged northwestern and central Nigeria, looting, stealing livestock and kidnapping for ransom.

In this case, gunmen stormed the village of Manawa on July 8 and seized 100 residents, including women and children, and took them to their hideout in the forest, a Zamfara state police spokesman said in a statement.

Hostages are usually released after ransom payments, with those whose families fail to pay are often killed by the kidnappers – but Mohammed Shehu said this time the release was “unconditional” and was assured “without any financial or material gain” to the gang.

A source familiar with the negotiations told AFP that the bandits agreed to release the kidnapped villagers after police and state authorities “assured them that no action would be taken against them for the kidnapping”.

The released hostages will undergo medical checkups before being reunited with their families, Shehu said.

Bandits operate from camps in the vast Rugu Forest, which cuts across Nigeria’s Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states, as well as neighboring Niger.

Nigeria’s air force has in the past attacked bandit camps, while some northern states have attempted to negotiate with the gangs by offering amnesty in exchange for disarmament.

But both military deployment and attempts at peace agreements have not ended the violence.

On Monday, 13 police officers were killed in Zamfara state when they were ambushed by a gang working to protect a village from an imminent attack.

The criminals have recently targeted schools and kidnapping students to extort ransom from parents.

(AFP)

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