Gunmen release children kidnapped from Nigerian farm

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KANO, Nigeria, Nov 6 (Reuters) - A group of 21 children who were abducted by gunmen last week from a farm in northwestern Nigeria's Katsina state were freed and reunited with their families on Saturday, police said.

Kidnapping has become endemic in recent years in Katsina - the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari - as roving gangs of armed men abduct people from schools, hospitals, roads and farms and demand ransom cash from their relatives.

Three of the captives' parents told Reuters the children, aged between 8 and 14, were released after parents paid a ransom of 1.5 million naira ($3,400), but police spokesman Gambo Isa denied a ransom had been paid.

"They have been reunited with their families," Isa said in a message shared via WhatsApp late on Saturday.

The three parents who spoke to Reuters asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from authorities, who do not approve of ransom payments, or from the bandits themselves.

"They said if we don't pay the ransom between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. yesterday (Saturday) they will move into the deep part of the forest with them and then we will never see them," one father said, adding that some parents had to turn to relatives to help raise their share of the money.

Parents said more than 30 children were kidnapped on Oct. 30 while harvesting crops at a farm located between Kamfanin Mailafiya and Kurmin Doka villages in Katsina, but some managed to escape.

Police and the parents said all the remaining captives were now free.

($1 = 438.8800 naira)

Reporting by Libby George and Maiduguri newsroom Editing by Helen Popper

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