Irish priest, 79, freed after being held for month in Philippines





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Published on Nov 12, 2009

A 79-year old Irish priest who was held in the Philippines for a month by a band of Islamic rebels spoke hours after his release of the kindness of his captors and his determination to continue his missionary work. Father Michael Sinnott, who had a quadruple heart bypass four years ago, was forced to climb up mountains and through swampy jungle, for 32 days before being freed yesterday.

I am a bit old and I found hiking a bit difficult at times, Father Sinnott said in Manila, where he was flown to meet the countrys president, Gloria Arroyo. I think that theyd be glad to kidnap a younger man next time ... I would like to thank everyone who helped to get me free and all my friends who prayed for me while I was in captivity.

He was handed over to the Philippines army by representatives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a rebel army that has been fighting a long-running guerrilla war for independence for the Philippines southern island of Mindanao. The MILF insisted that it had not kidnapped Father Sinnott, but negotiated his release from the original kidnappers — a rebel splinter group, or lost command.

They were very, very kind to me, he told reporters. I cannot say anything about them ... There is not a thing wrong with me and I hope to be able to continue my work for another few years at least here in the Philippines.

Ransom demand for priest
Irish missionary kidnapped in Philippines
He was kidnapped on October 11 from a Catholic mission in the town of Pagadian on Mindanao, a violent and conflict-stricken region where numerous armed groups flourish, both as independence fighters and bandits. For 32 days he lived on sandwiches and rice, and was moved repeatedly by speedboat and on foot.

For the first 10 days, we were in a swampy area, he said. It was a small place. I could not walk around. I was just sleeping on the hammock or sitting, doing nothing else. They did their best to make things as easy as possible for me."

"It was not the MILF, I am very sure about that, but members of a lost command ... They gave me lectures on their ideology but apart from that, they treated me well. It was not the MILF because I have learned and I was told that it is against the teachings of the Koran.

It was feared that the strain of being abducted and his heart condition could prove fatal for Father Sinnott, and there were rumours that he had died in captivity. Then the kidnappers released a video of the priest in which they conveyed their demand for a $32 million ransom.

Both Manila and Dublin insisted that no money had been paid. The release of Father Michael represents the successful conclusion of a major diplomatic effort by the Irish and Philippine governments, the Irish foreign minister Michael Martin said.

As in previous kidnaps, no ransom was paid by the Irish Government. To do so would only have jeopardised the vital work of aid workers and missionaries around the world — it would also place other Irish citizens in danger.


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