Thursday, October 15, 2009

Irish priest's kidnappers phone Columban missionaries in Mindanao

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 15, 2009) – An emissary of the gang holding hostage a kidnapped Irish priest has contacted Thursday the cleric’s Missionary Society of St. Columban in the southern Philippines, a senior military commander said.

The priest, Columban missioner Michael Sinnott, 80, was seized by six gunmen from his house in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province on October 11 and was brought to the town of Sultan Naga Dimaporo in Lanao del Sur where he is being held.

Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino said the kidnappers’ emissary phoned the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Ozamis City in the province of Misamis Occidental, but details of the conversations were not made public.

“We cannot divulge what the emissary told the Columban priests. The important thing here is that there has been a contact with the kidnappers,” Dolorfino told the independent regional newspaper the Mindanao Examiner.

He appealed to the kidnappers to allow medicines for Sinnott, who had underwent several heart surgeries in the past. He said the kidnappers can call up the Crisis Management Committee headed by the governor of Zamboanga del Sur Aurora Cerilles on these mobile phone numbers 0939-4366573 and 0927-5594464.

Cerilles has earlier appealed to Sinnott’s captors to allow them to send medicines to the ailing priest.

“He's almost 80 (years old). He underwent a quadruple heart bypass and he needs to take his maintenance medicines. He has not taken his medicines for three days since he was kidnapped,” Cerilles told the ABS-CBN television in an interview.

She said the priest needs the medication badly and that negotiations for his release can come later. She also gave her mobile phone number 0918-9004007 so they can contact her.

Police has linked a Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander Latip Jamat to the kidnapping of the priest. Jamat has denied involvement in the kidnapping, said Colonel Benito de Leon, commander of army forces in Lanao province.

“I contacted Latip Jamat and spoke to him and he is denying all accusations against him. He denied involvements in the kidnapping of Father Michael Sinnott. Latip is so angry because he is being dragged into this mess and he vowed to kill the kidnappers of the priest,” De Leon said in a separate interview.

De Leon said they would tap Muslim religious leaders and politicians in the province to help secure the safe release of the Columban missioner. He said they have also sought the help of the MILF in securing the freedom of the priest.

“We are tapping all sectors. We have sought the help of the MILF CCCH, the religious sector - ulema, and politicians in the province who could help us secure the safe release of Father Sinnott,” he said.

CCCH refers to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.
Dolorfino has previously tagged a notorious pirate leader Guingona Samal alias Commander Ingo, as behind the kidnapping of ailing priest and said he is not discounting the possibility that Sinnott has been handed over to the group of Jamat.

Dolorfino said he ordered troops to encircle the area where the Wexford native is being held hostage.

The MILF said it is also helping the government secure the freedom of Sinnott and has deployed forces to track down the kidnappers and their hostage. “The MILG has nothing to do with the kidnapping. We are doing everything to help here. We have forces searching for the priest,” said Eid Kabalu, the group’s spokesman. (Mindanao Examiner)

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