Friday, October 30, 2009

Kidnappers demand ransom for Irish priest, says Sinn Fein member

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 30, 2009) – Philippine kidnappers holding a kidnapped Irish priest have demanded ransom and Senior Sinn Féin figure Gerry Kelly and former Downing St chief of staff Jonathan Powell have been involved in behind-the-scenes talks in an attempt to secure the ailing Columban missioner.

Father Michael Sinnott, 79, was kidnapped by six gunmen October 11 from his home in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur in western Mindanao. And Kelly said the priest is being held captive in Lanao del Norte, a province in northern Mindanao, according to a report by The Irish Times.

It said the priest, who has had several heart surgeries in the past, received his life-saving medicines through emissaries in the Philippines.

Kelly said he had been contacted by a relative of another priest working in the Philippines about Father Sinnott. “I understand that Fr Sinnott is both safe and alive and I also understand that he has got his medicine for his heart condition,” he said.

He said: “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. Another report 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.

“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,” Kelly said. “The second news we’ve got is that they have managed to get some medication to him for his heart condition.”

“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,” the Ireland Online quoted Kelly as saying.

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.”

The Philippine military said it was unaware of any negotiations involving Kelly and Powell for the safe release of the priest.

“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,” said Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, Western Mindanao military commander in-charge of recovering the cleric.

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.

In the 1990s, with fewer nationalist grievances left to exploit, the Irish Republican Army began talks with the British government. A ceasefire was enacted in 1997, and the next year the main political parties of Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin, renounced violence in the US-brokered Good Friday Accord. In 2005 the Irish Republican Army itself disarmed. (Mindanao Examiner)

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