Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kidnapped Irish missioner spotted in southern Philippines; rescue underway

An undated photo of Columban Father Michael Sinnott who was kidnapped from his home in Pagadian City, southern Philippines, on October 11,2009 is posted at the website of the Union of Catholic Asian News. Christian and Muslim leaders have appealed for the safe release of the priest who had been serving people, especially children, in Pagadian diocese for decades.

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 13, 2009) – An elderly Irish missionary who was kidnapped in the southern Philippines has been spotted with his captors in Lanao del Sur, one of five provinces in the troubled Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, a senior military commander said Tuesday.

Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino said troops were sent to the province to prevent the kidnappers from getting away with Fr Michael Sinnott, who was seized Sunday inside his house in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province.

He said civilians reported seeing the priest, who is a native of Wexford, at least three times since Monday. “We have sent soldiers in the area to contain the kidnappers in just one place. We also deployed four patrol ships in Lanao to prevent the gunmen from escaping at sea,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

Dolorfino did not say what particular town or who was responsible for the kidnapping of the 80-year old missioner so as not to jeopardize the rescue operations.

“We cannot give you anything other than the priest was seen in Lanao del Sur three times – twice of Monday and again Tuesday,” he said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the latest kidnapping, but suspicion fell heavily on Moro rebels and Abu Sayyaf militants blamed for previous kidnappings for ransom.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for self-determination, has denied involvements Tuesday in the kidnapping and even offered to help security forces in searching for Sinnott.

“We have no involvements in the kidnapping of the priest and no reason at all to kidnap a cleric. We are even offering the military to help in locating the missionary,” Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said in a separate interview.

Dick O'Brien, the Irish ambassador to Singapore, is traveling to the Philippines to help secure the release of Sinnott.

O’Brien is due to meet Filipino government officials in Manila to discuss how best to secure Sinnott’s freedom.

Sinnott’s family fears for safety of the cleric, saying, the missioner has had health problems and is without his medicine. His brother-in-law, Aidan Conway, said he was “very worried”, as are all of Sinnott's relations.

“The family is really terribly upset. Nothing like this has ever happened. He's a very dedicated man and let's hope that he'll be strong enough to get through it. He doesn't have his medication and it's very worrying,” the Belfast Telegraph reported.

Sinnott was reported to have undergone a heart bypass surgery and is taking medication.

Conway, whose late wife, Eileen, was a sister of Sinnott, said he was sure that Ambassador Dick O'Brien, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Columban order were doing everything possible to secure the release of the cleric. (Mindanao Examiner)

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