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Thursday, 7 September, 2000, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Kidnapping becomes growth industry

By BBC News Online's Kate Goldberg

Hostage-taking has become an increasingly lucrative business for rebel groups and criminal gangs around the world.

Kidnap for ransom reached record levels last year, and has increased by 70% over the last eight years, according to a survey released by the Hiscox insurance group.

Top 10 kidnap countries
Former Soviet Union
South Africa
Little wonder, perhaps, when one looks at the size of the ransoms being extorted, and the relatively small number of kidnappers that ever get caught.

The price for releasing hostages ranges from huge cash payments, such as those allegedly paid to the Abu Sayyaf rebels in the Philippines, to the seemingly innocuous request for college education made by the West Side Boys in Sierra Leone.

"Kidnappers are getting more greedy, and more plucky in what they're demanding," said Bill Daley of Kroll Associates, a New York firm that specialises in negotiating hostage release around the world.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf member is arrested -
Suspected Abu Sayyaf member is arrested
And very few kidnappers are ever brought to justice, according to Mr Daley.

"In many parts of the world, kidnapping incidents are not reported to the authorities - perhaps because of fear, mistrust or corruption. And so there is no investigation into the people involved," Mr Daley told BBC News Online.

Kidnap danger zones

Most kidnapping takes place in countries where there is political upheaval, extreme poverty, or low levels of law enforcement.

In Colombia, the kidnap-capital of the world, an estimated 2,0000 people are kidnapped for ransom every year.

It has become Colombia's second-biggest illegal industry, after drug-trafficking.

Western business people are more of a target because they're easily identifiable, and people know there's money behind them

Bill Daley
Kidnappings in former Soviet states - which have seen a breakdown of social order since the collapse of Communism - have also risen sharply, from five in 1992 to 105 last year.

"Kidnapping typically happens in countries where there's a huge gap between the haves and have-nots," said Mr Daley.

"Western business people are more of a target because they're easily identifiable, and people know there's money behind them," he added.

In Nigeria's Niger Delta region, gunmen frequently take oil workers hostage to protest against what they see as unfair exploitation by oil companies.

Tricky dealings

But in the murky world of hostage-taking, the demands of the kidnappers are often changeable or confused. And hard facts are difficult to obtain because of the delicate nature of negotiations.

Unusual ransoms
College education abroad for Sierra Leone's West Side Boys
Basketball court and uniforms for hostage-takers in Philippines
Road, water supply and clinic for Yemeni tribesmen
Jobs as security personnel for Nigerian gunmen
The Abu Sayyaf hostage-takers were reported to have demanded the total independence for an independent Muslim state, and the release of convicted Afghan terrorists in the US.

But in reports denied by Libya, they eventually settled for $1m for each freed hostage in "development aid" from the Libyan leader's Gaddafi Foundation.

And they lost no time in taking another hostage - this time a 24-year-old American they accused of being a CIA agent.

Deciding how to respond to kidnappings is a vexed question.

demonstators being kept back by police
Violence erupted in India after film star Raj Kumar was kidnapped
Many countries believe that to pay ransom is to encourage the kidnappers.

In the Philippines, for example, the money from the first batch of releases could help bankroll the group's further activities.

In Italy there are laws against paying ransom, and similar laws were tried in Colombia.

But such measures are politically unpopular, especially among the relatives of current victims.

Experts say kidnappings in Colombia are unlikely to stop, as the rebels are reliant on ransom revenue to continue their struggle.

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See also:

02 May 00 | World
Analysis: How hostages cope
17 Aug 99 | Talking Point
Can hostage taking ever be justified?
01 Sep 00 | Africa
Interview with the West Side Boys
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