Sat, Dec 26, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Suspected militants release hostage in the Philippines

GIFT OF FREEDOM The kidnappers originally sought about US$430,000 in ransom for the school official’s release, but authorities said that no ransom was paid

AFP , ZAMBOANGA, PHILIPPINES

A school official who was among three people held hostage by suspected Islamist militants in a lawless region of the Philippines has been released unharmed, a local official said yesterday.

The circumstances surrounding the release of Orlando Fajardo, the vice president of a college who was abducted at his home in southern Basilan island two weeks ago were unclear, with the country’s largest Muslim separatist guerrilla group claiming credit.

Al-Rasheed Sakalahul, vice-governor of Basilan Province, told reporters he personally picked up the former hostage at a mountainous area late on Christmas Eve.

“It’s a good Christmas present. We have now in our possession Doctor Fajardo,” Sakalahul said.

Three other people, including two employees of a lumber yard are still held hostage in Basilan by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants, who had beheaded another hostage earlier this month.

Fajardo’s kidnappers had initially sought 20 million pesos (US$430,000) in exchange for his liberty, but Sakalahul later said no ransom was paid and that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) helped him convince the gunmen to free him.

“The MILF secured the release of Mr Fajardo and handed him over to me. There was no ransom paid and the release was made possible through the help of the MILF,” he said.

Eid Kabalu, spokesman for the separatist group that is holding peace talks with the Philippine government, said: “We have been helping the government secure the release of kidnap victims through the ad-hoc joint action group.”

The liaison group is a mechanism set up after a 2004 truce under which the MILF committed to help the government stamp out terrorism and crime in areas the insurgents controlled.

Basilan gunmen are still holding lumber firm workers Michael Tan and Oscar Lu who were both kidnapped last month, and another local, Donald John Capili, who was abducted in October.

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