Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Zamboanga kidnappers free hostage after 2 months in captivity

Freed kidnapped Filipino woman, Mary Cuartocruz, 21, and her mother Elena Cuartocruz listen as Chief Superintendent Elpedio de Asis, the regional police chief, looks on as journalists ask questions Tuesday, March 1, 2011 during a news conference at a police base in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Mar. 1, 2011) – Suspected Muslim rebels freed a young woman they kidnapped in Zamboanga City after more than two months in captivity in the southern Philippines.

Police said Mary Cuartocruz, 21, was released late Monday in the town of Alicia in Zamboanga Sibugay. The woman was later brought to the nearby town of Ipil where she underwent medical examination.

“I am really happy for my release and now I want to work abroad,” the woman, who is also a nurse, said during a news conference at a tightly guarded police base in Zamboanga City.

She said she converted to Islam to protect her from her kidnappers, who are all Muslims. “I embraced Islam because I know it will protect me from harm and that’s why I am wearing this hijab now,” said Cuartocruz, who was accompanied by her mother, Elena Cuartocruz.

The woman said the kidnappers had threatened her mother into paying money for her safe release, but she did not say how much was paid to her captors, but the police said the family had given money to the gang.

“They threatened my mother and told her that if she failed to pay they would send over my head to my family,” Cuartocruz said.

She said she was fed mostly crabs and that she had been held by different groups during her two-month ordeal.

“I was held by different groups, by men who spoke in Tausug, Maguindanao and Yakan,” she said.

Tausug is the dialect in the southern province of Sulu, while Maguidanao is widely used in centra Mindanao; and Yakan in Basilan province, several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City.

Gunmen seized the young woman and fatally shot her grand father who tried to rescue her in Zamboanga City on December 14.

The old man was shot as he tried to fight off the gunmen who barged inside their house in the village called Manicahan. The attackers forcibly took Cuartocruz and escaped.

The local police chief, Edwin de Ocampo, did not give details of the release, but admitted the woman’s family paid so-called “goodwill money” in exchange for the victim’s freedom.

“There was no ransom paid to the kidnappers, but I was told by the woman’s mother that they only gave goodwill money,” he said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but the captors were also linked by the police to previous kidnappings in Zamboanga and are suspected to be rebels operating in the provinces.

Abu Sayyaf kidnappers are still holding a Chinese-Filipino trader Larry Tan delos Santos in the neighboring province of Basilan since December and his captors originally demanded P20 million, but eventually lowered this to P5 million, for his safe release.
(Mindanao Examiner)

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