Nigerian kidnappers release Spanish doctor

LAGOS Sat Apr 21, 2012 3:40pm EDT

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LAGOS (Reuters) - Kidnappers in Nigeria have released a Spanish doctor they abducted three weeks ago, police said on Saturday.

Gunmen kidnapped Jose Manuel Machimbarrena on April 4 from his home in southeastern Nigeria, a region where several foreigners have been seized for ransom in the past few years.

"The kidnapped Dr Machimbarrena ... was released yesterday," Enugu police spokesman Ebere Amaraizu said in a statement.

"The state police command has intensified its manhunt in the pursuit of the hoodlums who took him."

Kidnapping is a major criminal enterprise in Africa's second biggest economy, and most victims are Nigerian.

Scores of foreigners have been abducted in the oil-producing Niger Delta in recent years, though an amnesty for militants in 2009 reduced the number of kidnappings substantially. Most kidnap victims were released after payment of a ransom.

Enugu is just north of the oil-producing region.

A Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the freeing of Machimbarrena, who has been living in Nigeria since 1978, adding that he was tired but in good health. It was unclear whether a ransom had been paid.

(Reporting by Tim Cocks; Additional reporting by Iciar Reinlein in Madrid; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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