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Robberies, Kidnappings on Rise in Nigeria's Southeast

Nigeria's southeastern state of Anambra has been plagued in recent months by a string of armed robberies and kidnappings. Residents say the growing insecurity is driven by criminality and violence from the proliferation of armed gangs.

Armed robberies, vehicle hijackings and kidnappings of foreigners and wealthy Nigerians have become increasingly common across southeastern Nigeria. Criminal gangs have left the region's residents living in a state of insecurity.

Okechukwu Aneche, a trader in Awka, Anambra state, southeast Nigeria, says he is troubled by the surge in violent crime.

"It is a very worrisome situation," said Aneche. "For the past three weeks or so we have experienced so many cases of kidnapping within Awka, the capital city of Anambra state. It is quite worrisome. A lot of residents here in Awka they don't sleep anymore because of insecurity."

Most banks in Anambra state have been forced to close down in the past few weeks following a spike in armed robberies and kidnappings. A government report this week said the southeast has become the kidnapping region of Nigeria, with more abductions than any other region in the country, including insurgency-wracked Niger Delta.

The Nigerian parliament also summoned security chiefs for a briefing on the growing insecurity in the southeast, regarded as one of Nigeria's biggest trading centers.

Emeka Chukwuemeka, a police spokesman in Anambra state, told VOA the growing insecurity was having a great negative effect on the economy of the region.

"This kidnapping thing is really causing economic hardship to the state," he said. "It is scaring away investors, its scaring away people from doing their business. People no longer interact and socialize with one another."

Previously, only foreigners were targeted. But now even middle or working class Nigerians are snatched off the streets, for ransoms as low as a few hundred dollars. Poverty and unemployment are blamed for the trend.

Police spokesman Chukwuemeka says security forces are working hard to stem kidnappings by criminal gangs in the state.

"Kidnapping business is becoming a thing of the past in Anambra state because we have a robust strategy; we have a crime fighter in place, in the name of Amusa Bello, who is the head of police in Anambra state right now. He is doing whatever is possible to contain these people and the violent criminals in the state," he said.

The police say kidnappers and hostage takers in Nigeria collected ransoms of over $100 million between 2006 and January 2008. Hundreds of foreign workers have been kidnapped over the past three years.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, the country's main militant group, started kidnapping foreign oil workers three years ago as part of its campaign for a greater share of the region's oil wealth.