Italy priest freed in Philippines

Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi, who was kidnapped at gunpoint in the southern Philippines last month, has been freed.

The 57-year-old was released by his kidnappers on Thursday night on the southern island of Mindanao.

He told journalists he had been treated with respect since he was seized on 10 June, although he had lost weight due to a diet of salted fish and rice.

Fourteen government soldiers were killed last week as they searched for the priest.

Father Bossi said he had been told upon his abduction that his kidnappers were with Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic extremist group known to have ties with al-Qaeda.

    I never had the sensation that they wanted to kill me, nor did I ever receive a death threat or violence of any kind

    Father Giancarlo Bossi

But the Philippine military said it believed rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the main Muslim separatist group in the southern Philippines, to be behind the kidnapping.

The priest also said he had been told the purpose of his kidnapping was to extract a ransom.

But Philippine officials insisted no ransom was paid, saying Father Bossi's release was the result of negotiations with the kidnappers.

Beheadings

Giancarlo Bossi was seized by rebels while on his way to Mass in Mindanao's Zamboanga Sibugay province.

He told a news conference that he was moved to a different province, but apart from changing "hiding places sometimes, walking up mountains and crossing fields" they "never strayed far from there".

"I never had the sensation that they wanted to kill me, nor did I ever receive a death threat or violence of any kind," Father Bossi earlier told the Misna missionary news agency.

"Only the food wasn't great - rice, salt and dried fish. As a result I lost some weight. But I also stopped smoking; I haven't touched a cigarette since 27 June," he added.

Father Bossi is heading back to Italy to see his family, but said he hoped to return to Mindanao where he has served as a parish priest for a decade.

He also said he hoped to visit the families of the 14 Philippine marines who were killed in clashes on nearby Basilan island while hunting for him. Ten of the soldiers were beheaded.

MILF admitted its militants were involved in the clashes but denied carrying out the beheadings. Abu Sayyaf rebels were also thought to have been involved in the attacks.

Father Bossi's release was announced by Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, who also said it coincided with the 87th birthday of the priest's mother.

20/07/2007

Bron : BBC News

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