Page last updated at 08:46 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 09:46 UK

Venezuela passes anti-kidnap law

By James Ingham
BBC News, Caracas

Skyline of modern tower blocks in Caracas, Venezuela, 19 Feb, 2008
Kidnappings are a growing problem for Venezuela's city dwellers

Kidnappers in Venezuela could face up to 30 years in jail, under a new law approved by the national assembly.

The legislation has been brought in specifically to tackle the crime, which until now was not covered by a particular law.

The government says fewer people have been kidnapped this year compared with last, but it remains a major concern.

The law will also require victims' families to disclose their financial worth to help deter ransom paying.

Kidnapping is used by guerrilla groups for both political and economic purposes - but also by ordinary criminals who know there is potential to demand huge ransoms from wealthy families.

'Express kidnapping'

The problem is worst near the border with Colombia, where rebel fighters operate.

Farmers in particular, in these areas, have always raised concerns about their safety.

A growing problem for city dwellers is "express kidnapping" where armed gangs target victims and then demand payment for their quick release. Often the whole incident is over within a day or two.

The government says it is taking the issue of security seriously.

Official figures show there has been a reduction in kidnappings. In the first six months of this year, 140 people were kidnapped, compared with 212 in the same period of 2007.

The new requirement for victims' families to disclose their financial worth is meant to help prevent ransoms being paid and encourage victims to approach the police for help.

But mistrust of the security services means that does not always happen, and payment is often made to ensure a victim's safe return.

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