Friday, October 16, 2009

Philippines forms task force to recover kidnapped Irish priest

Police released composite photos of five of six gunmen who kidnapped Irish cleric Michael Sinnott in the southern Philippines.

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 16, 2009) – Philippine authorities on Friday have formed a task force in-charge of recovering an elderly Irish priest kidnapped in the restive southern island of Mindanao.

Six armed men seized Columban missioner Michael Sinnott from his home October 11 in Pagadian City in the western Mindanao province of Zamboanga del Sur. And the military said it tracked down the priest near the town of Sultan Naga Dimaporo in Lanao del Sur in central Mindanao where he is being held hostage by gunmen.

“Task Force Zebra has taken over all operations pertaining to Father Michael Sinnott,” Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, commander of military forces in western Mindanao, told the Mindanao Examiner.

A notorious pirate leader Guingona Samal was tagged as behind his kidnapping, but military and police reports said the 80-year old Wexford native was handed to Latip Jamat, a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front whose group is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

The MILF and Jamat have denied involvements in the kidnapping. Dolorfino said Jamat was previously linked to the kidnapping of an Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi in June 2007.

Gunmen kidnapped Bossi, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, while celebrating mass in the village of Bulawan in Payao town in Zamboanga del Sur province and demanded 50 million pesos for his safe release. He was freed a month later after private negotiators allegedly paid a huge ransom.

Dolorfino said an emissary of the kidnappers had contacted Thursday Sinnott’s Missionary Society of St. Columban in Ozamis City in the province of Misamis Occidental, but details of the conversations were not made public.

But the Vatican Radio on Friday said Fr Patrick O’ Donoghue, regional director of the Columban missionaries in the Philippines, is cautioning against reports that contact has been made with Sinnott’s kidnappers.

“We are making efforts, we are exploring ways in which we might be able to get men to Fr Michael. We have not been successful in that as of yet. There has no contact made between us and any body who took him and personally I would be very cautious against any speculations as to who took him; where he might be, who is behind this, what are their motives because in the absence of hard facts people are more likely to speculate, but I think it’s dangerous. I think it’s unhealthy to be making any kind of assertion until we really know in fact who may have him and what it is they are asking for in taking him,” O’ Donoghue said.

The governor of Zamboanga del Sur province, Aurora Cerilles, has appealed to Sinnott’s captors allow them to send medicines for the ailing priest, who had several heart surgery in the past. She said the priest needs the medication badly and that negotiations for his release can come later.

Dolorfino said he ordered troops to surround the area where Sinnott is being held captive and the MILF also offered to help secure the release of the priest. (Mindanao Examiner)

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