Saturday, October 31, 2009

Filipino kidnappers release video, demand $2 million for freedom of Irish cleric

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 31, 2009) – Philippine gunmen holding captive an elderly Irish missioner have released a video of their hostage and demanded two million dollars for his freedom.

The kidnappers are holding Father Michael Sinnott since October 11 after he was taken at gunpoint from his Columban missionary house in the western Mindanao city of Pagadian.

Sinnott is being held the boundary of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte provinces in northern Mindanao. In the video, the 79-year old priest was shown reading a newspaper and said that his captors were demanding the ransom for his release.

A senior Sinn Féin figure Gerry Kelly and former Downing St chief of staff Jonathan Powell who have been involved in behind-the-scenes talks in an attempt to secure the ailing Columban missioner have earlier said that the kidnappers were demanding ransom.

The Irish Times has quoted Kelly as saying: “The good news is that they believe he is in Lanao del Norte. The kidnappers are asking for ‘board and lodgings’ – a euphemism for a ransom.”

Kelly did not say how much ransom the kidnappers were demanding, but another report by the Ireland Online also quoted him as saying: “We know the kidnappers have got in touch looking for ransom – the good news about that is it means he is alive and in health.”

“The second news we’ve got is that they have managed to get some medication to him for his heart condition,” Kelly said. “What we will do is continue on. The main people who are doing the most work are the MILF who are active on the ground and the Philippine government.”

It said Kelly and Powell have been in regular contact with the Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, through intermediaries since Farther Sinnott was captured.

The MILF was initially thought to have been behind the kidnapping, but Kelly said a criminal gang was now believed to be responsible. The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila, although it has been fighting for independence in Mindanao the past three decades.

The Missionary Society of St. Columban to which Sinnott belongs said the priest had several heart surgeries in the past.
Philippine military officials and MILF rebels said they have not seen copy of the video.

“I have not seen the video and have no knowledge about its existence. We don’t know anything about the video which showed Father Sinnott. We have not seen the video,” said Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the MILF rebels, said: “We are not aware of the video. Until now we have no proof of life – we have no photos or video of Father Sinnott, but if there is such a video, well that’s good and a proof that Father Sinnot is alive,” he said.

Kelly said the priest is not a rich man and has been helping poor Filipino children through his own foundation. “This is an Irish priest who went out to the Philippines and has worked there for decades with the poor people of the country,” he said.

“This is the wrong man to kidnap – this isn’t a rich man and he doesn’t have any independent wealth. All that he’s done has been good for the people and he needs to be released.”

Dolorfino and Kabalu said they were unaware of any negotiations involving Kelly and Powell for the release of Sinnott.

“We are not aware of this negotiation by Kelley and Powell. What we know is the MILF is trying to help the authorities in securing the release of Father Sinnott,” Dolorfino said.

“We don’t know that Kelly or Powell or the Sinn Fein is involved in the negotiations, if there is, to free the priest, but some European Union ambassadors have sought our help last week in securing Father Sinnott,” Kabalu said.

Sinn Féin is an Irish political and cultural society founded about 1905 to promote political and economic independence from England, unification of Ireland, and a renewal of Irish culture. It now constitutes the political branch of the Irish Republican Army, a dissident republican group that fought an armed campaign over almost three decades to end British rule in Northern Ireland before renouncing violence. (Mindanao Examiner)

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