Irish priest freed in Philippines after a month

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 9:16 PM

A 79-year-old Irish Roman Catholic priest abducted in the Philippines a month ago was freed early Thursday and neither country paid any of the kidnappers' $2 million ransom demand, Irish and Filipino authorities said.

The Rev. Michael Sinnott said he was not harmed but complained of arduous journeys as kidnappers took him by sea and through jungles to evade government troops.

"I was treated well. Once I had been kidnapped and brought to the boat, that was very rough," he told Manila's ABS-CBN television from a military camp in southern Zamboanga city.

He said he was not angry with the kidnappers, whom the Philippine government suspected had ties with a large Muslim rebel group. "They gave me lectures on their ideology but apart from that, they treated me well."

Irish President Mary McAleese called Sinnott's freedom the answer to the shared prayers of millions in both countries.

"He is clearly a man of great resilience, strength and courage and we wish him well as he seeks to recover from such a trying ordeal," McAleese said.

And Prime Minister Brian Cowen said the government would help the priest enjoy "a speedy reunion with his family and friends."

Six armed men abducted Sinnott Oct. 11 from his missionary home on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, escaped by speedboat, and took him into the jungle.

Officials had feared he could suffer a fatal heart attack because he was still recovering from heart-bypass surgery. Rumors persisted that he had died in captivity.

Philippine security officials blamed Sinnott's kidnaping on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a separatist group that has fought for decades for Muslim self-rule in the predominantly Catholic country.

But the rebels denied involvement.

Rebel leader Mohagher Iqbal said his group applied "pressure and our moral authority" on the kidnappers to release Sinnott.

Chief Philippine negotiator Rafael Seguis credited Moro rebel leadership with persuading the kidnappers to hand over the priest.

Senior military commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino said Sinnott was debriefed in the southern military camp before flying to Manila later Thursday to be greeted by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Dolorfino and Seguis said Philippine authorities paid no ransom.

In Dublin, Martin declined to detail how the priest won his freedom other than to call the achievement "the successful conclusion of a major diplomatic effort by the Irish and Philippine governments." He also credited the U.S. government, other European Union nations with embassies in Manila, and the International Committee of the Red Cross with playing a role.

The Philippine government said it had received demands from Sinnott's captors for $2 million in ransom but, like the Irish, stressed that paying anything would only encourage more kidnappings in rebel-threatened Mindanao.

Martin said paying a ransom "would only have jeopardized the vital work of aid workers and missionaries around the world. It would also place other Irish citizens in danger."

At least two other Irish Catholic priests have been targeted by kidnappers in the southern Philippines. In 1987 a priest was held for 12 days by Islamic militants before being released unharmed, but four years later another priest was shot to death when he resisted his abductors.

In June 2007, kidnappers with links to Moro rebels held an Italian priest for 33 days.


Associated Press writer Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.