Gunmen have hijacked a school bus in Nigeria's Abia state, on the fringes of the oil-producing Niger Delta, and kidnapped 15 children, police said on Tuesday. The children were believed to come from wealthy families, as is the case with most private school pupils in Nigeria. Gunmen have been negotiating with the owner of the school as police stepped up efforts on Wednesday to free the students, authorities said.

"The kidnappers are relating with the proprietor of the school and we are hopeful for a good outcome," Abia State police spokesman Geofrey Ogbonna said. "We are intensifying our efforts to set free the 15 children."

He did not give details on the talks with the kidnappers or police efforts to track them down following Monday's hijacking in Nigeria's oil-rich south.

The abductors have demanded a ransom of 20 million naira (128,900 dollars, 95,650 euros).

President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday called the incident "utterly callous and cruel" and pledged government action to free the victims.

Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta region has seen scores of kidnappings in recent years, often by criminal gangs seeking ransom payments but also by militants demanding a fairer distribution of oil revenue.

Most kidnappings initially involved foreign oil workers, but more recently attackers have also targeted the children and relatives of wealthy Nigerians.

The majority of victims are freed unharmed, often after a ransom is paid.


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