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Australian hostage released in Philippines

Man kidnapped by al-Qaeda-linked group for ransom has been freed following "joint efforts" by Canberra and Manila.
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2013 10:18
Philippine officials said a ransom was paid for Rodwel's release [AFP]

Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaeda-linked group in the southern Philippines, has released an Australian hostage near a coastal town where they kidnapped him for ransom 15 months ago.

Warren Rodwell, 54, was brought to police by residents of Pagadian city who saw him walking before dawn near the fishing port, where his abductors dropped him off, said local police chief Julius Munez.

Rodwell "looked okay, just tired. But he looked like he lost a lot of weight," Munez said.

In Washington where he is on a visit, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr welcomed the news, saying the release was a joint effort by authorities in both countries, and that the focus now was on Rodwell's speedy recovery.

Philippine security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media, said a ransom was paid for Rodwell's release, as was usually the case with other hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf over the last two decades.

The officials who dealt with the abduction said they suspected members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a former Muslim secessionist group that signed a preliminary peace accord with the government last year, the Abu Sayyaf group and the Al Khobar group collaborated in detaining Rodwell and negotiating for a ransom.

Ransom payment

The latest round of negotiations resumed last month and ended this week with the kidnappers agreeing to a payment of a $100,000, although both the Australian and Philippine governments have strict policies of refusing to pay ransoms.

The kidnappers originally demanded $2m, the officials said.

Rodwell's family struggled to raise funds for the ransom, including selling some of their properties, according to an official
confidential report seen by The Associated Press news agency

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard praised Rodwell's family for showing "a great deal of courage and stoicism in what has been a tremendously difficult situation".

"I think all Australians will be very pleased to hear this news and delighted on behalf of the Rodwell family," she said.

Rodwell was taken by helicopter chartered by the US military to the US Joint Special Operations Task Force facility inside a Philippine military camp in Zamboanga city, about 880 kilometres south of Manila, said regional military spokesman Rodrigo Gregorio.

Rodwell, a former Australian soldier who was married to a Filipino woman and had settled down in the southern Philippines, was kidnapped in December 2011 from his seashore house in Ipil township west of Pagadian and taken by speed boat to nearby mountainous islands where Abu Sayyaf fighters are hiding.

He appeared in several videos posted by the armed group as negotiations for his release dragged on. His jungle captivity appeared to have taken a toll on his health as he appeared weaker in each video.

He was one of several foreigners abducted by the Abu Sayyaf in the southern restive region. Two Europeans and a Jordanian journalist are still being held alongside a Japanese man.

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Source:
Agencies
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