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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Britain took aim on Monday at the widespread but little publicized practice of paying ransoms to militant groups to win the release of kidnap victims, saying it helped fund terrorism.
The British government "believes that we must act to prevent kidnap ransoms becoming a significant source of terrorist finance," Foreign Secretary William Hague told a U.N. Security Council meeting on terrorism.
"From our own experience of hostage situations, we understand how difficult kidnap cases are," Hague said. "But it is dangerous to regard ransom as a 'necessary evil' or as a legitimate tool for resolving kidnaps."
"They encourage more kidnaps and fund murder. Major attacks can be mounted for only tens of thousands of dollars, so million dollar ransoms can mean dozens of attacks," he added.
Hague noted that a Security Council resolution passed last December made it illegal to pay ransoms to people under council sanctions because of their links to the al Qaeda or Taliban militant groups.
Few governments admit to paying ransoms to secure the freedom of their citizens who fall into the hands of militants, but money is widely believed to change hands in some cases.
Among other places, the issue has arisen in North Africa, where al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and allied groups have carried out a wave of kidnappings over the past year, pulling in million of dollars in ransoms, analysts say.
The tactic has divided regional states, with Algeria and Mauritania calling for a more hard-line approach to dealing with it. A U.S. military official, who declined to be identified, said in London last month that "the countries are at each other's throats over payments. It hurts us regionally."
A lengthy statement adopted after Monday's council meeting expressed concern over a rise in kidnapping aimed at raising funds and reminded U.N. member states of their duty to prevent the financing of terrorist acts, but did not directly address the question of ransoms.
Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Todd Eastham