Militants free Filipinos seized with Jordanian journalist

MANILA: Islamist Abu Sayyaf militants have freed two Filipino television crew members seized along with a Jordanian journalist nearly eight months ago in the southern Philippines, police said Sunday.

Looking frail and gaunt, audio technician Roland "Buboy" Letriro and cameraman Ramil Vela walked free Saturday on Jolo island where they had been held since June last year, regional police chief Noel delos Reyes told AFP.

Delos Reyes said there was "no word" on the fate or exact whereabouts of the Jordanian journalist, Bakr Atyani, of the Dubai-based Al Arabiya network.

"Shortly after they were freed they called their families from a hotel room in Jolo," delos Reyes said. "They were then taken by authorities to the provincial hospital to be checked up."

As they lay on their hospital beds, the two tearfully recounted their ordeal in the hands of the militants in Jolo's harsh jungle terrain, according to Jolo deputy provincial police chief Roy Gabor.

"We went through so much difficulty. We didn't know whether we would make it out alive," Gabor quoted the two as saying as they were fed bread and water.

He described the pair as very emotional, and said they emerged from the jungle looking thin and with unkempt hair and beards.

"They were a bit confused. They said they were just told to leave the hostage lair," Gabor told AFP.

He said the two related that they were separated from Atyani on the fifth day of their captivity, and that they had not seen him since.

The gunmen gave them a horse because Vela could not walk due to a swollen leg, and both left the jungle hideout unescorted until they reached a highway.

They then rode a tricycle to Jolo's main port where went to a hotel and sought help, Gabor said, adding that they would soon fly back to Manila to be reunited with their families.

Delos Reyes denied a ransom was paid for their release.

The two travelled with Atyani to Jolo island in June of last year after they were locally hired in Manila by the Jordanian to film the militants.

They went missing a day after they arrived, and police subsequently said the trio were held captive by the Abu Sayyaf -- a group of self-styled militants blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks as well as other kidnappings.

The group was founded with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network to fight for an independent Islamic state, though it later degenerated into a criminal gang.

US special forces have been rotating in the southern Philippine for over a decade to train local troops in crushing Abu Sayyaf which is on Washington's list of wanted foreign terrorist organisations.

At least four other foreign hostages are believed still held in the south by Abu Sayyaf and other militant outfits -- a Dutchman, a Swiss national, an Australian and a Japanese man.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr last month welcomed news that Warren Rodwell, 54, was alive after being held hostage for more than a year, but said his prolonged captivity was a "major concern".

European birdwatchers, Dutchman Ewold Horn, 52, and Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra, 47, were kidnapped in February last year. The Japanese man, Toshio Ito, was seized in July 2010.


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