Four Thais released after Nigeria kidnap ordeal

Four Thais and a Nigerian held in an apparent ransom kidnapping in southern Nigeria have been freed unharmed, officials in both countries said Saturday.

"The four of them were released at exactly 2:00 am (0100 GMT) this morning," the agricultural commissioner in Nigeria's Rivers state, Emmanuel Chindah, told AFP.

A gang travelling by boat abducted a group of six including two Nigerians on August 9 while they were on their way to work at a fish farm in Rivers.

One of the Nigerians drowned in the incident.

The four Thai nationals and surviving Nigerian were being examined by doctors in the area, Chindah said.

"They are doing fine," he added.

The Thai foreign ministry, which had earlier confirmed the release of its citizens, also said the group had not been seriously harmed.

"The Thai foreign minister has talked with one of them. They are fine and will continue to work in Nigeria," ministry spokesman Manasvi Srisodapol said.

Most kidnap victims in southern Nigeria are released unharmed after the payment of a ransom, unlike in the country's north, where Islamist extremists have killed a number of their hostages.

"The Rivers state government does not pay ransoms and to the best of my knowledge no ransom was paid," Chindah told AFP.

Companies, officials and the security services typically refuse to discuss ransom payments.

One of the Thai hostages spoke to Thai television on Saturday and said he believed the kidnap was linked to rivalry between competing fish farms.

"They took us as hostages and used us as a bargaining chip," Somchoke Panpinij told Thailand's Channel 7.

"We will not return to Thailand yet... I came here to help them to develop their country."