Thursday, October 15, 2009

Moro rebel leader linked to Irish priest kidnapping denies holding ailing cleric

The police sketch of kidnappers of Irish missioner Michael Sinnott.

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 15, 2009) – A Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebel linked to the kidnapping of an Irish priest in the southern Philippines has denied involvement in the disappearance of the elderly cleric, army officials said.

MILF commander Latip Jamat was linked by the police in the October 11 kidnapping of Fr Michael Sinnott who was seized from his house in Pagadian City in the western Mindanao province of Zamboanga del Sur. The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

Sinnott was brought to the town of Sultan Naga Dimaporo in Lanao del Sur province in central Mindanao, a known stronghold of the MILF, which is fighting the past decades for self-determination.

Colonel Benito de Leon, commander of army forces in Lanao province, said the rebel leader has denied involvement in the kidnapping.

“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 told the independent newspaper the Mindanao Examiner.

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.

Western Mindanao military commander Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino has tagged a notorious pirate leader Guingona Samal alias Commander Ingo, as behind the kidnapping of the 80-year old Sinnott.

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

The governor of Zamboanga del Sur Aurora Cerilles, who heads the provincial crisis committee, has appealed to Sinnott’s captors to allow them to send medicines to the ailing priest, who had undergone heart surgery in the past.

“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 medication and that negotiations for his release can come later.

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 MILF has nothing to do with the kidnapping. We are doing everything to help here. We have forces searching for the priest,” Eid Kabalu, the group’s spokesman, said in a separate interview. (Mindanao Examiner)

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