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Abducted Italian priest freed in southern Philippines

MANILA -- An abducted Italian priest has been released in the southern Philippines after more than one month in captivity, authorities said Friday.

 Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said no ransom was paid for the freedom of Father Giancarlo Bossi, 57, who was kidnapped on June 10 in Zamboanga Sibugay province, 810 kilometres south of Manila.

Bossi was freed late Thursday in the town of Karumatan in Lanao del Norte province, east of Zamboanga Sibugay.

Puno said the kidnappers were pressured into releasing Bossi under threat of stepped up military offensives following the death of 14 marines searching for the priest in nearby Basilan province.

"This was not a very convivial dialogue," he told reporters. "We lost troops and there was no pleasant conversations. We are just happy that we were able to get Father Bossi." 

Bossi appeared gaunt and tired but was given a clean bill of health by military doctors who checked him.

He said the kidnappers told him that they were members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf rebel group.

"The reason (they kidnapped me) is according to them, that because I am a priest," he told a news conference in Zamboanga City before flying to Manila to meet with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

"That was the reason for them to kidnap me, just to have some ransom," he added.

When asked if he was angry with his captors, Bossi said, "No, I am not angry at them. I told them that I pray for them every night. I pray that one day, they can go home with their family." 

But Bossi said he told his kidnappers that he knows their faces and would immediately report to the police if ever he sees any one of them again.

Arroyo hailed Bossi's safe release as she led ceremonies to officially mark the implementation of a controversial anti-terrorism law, which took effect on Sunday.

"We rejoice over the safe release of Bossi," she said. "We thank our soldiers, police and concerned civilians who valiantly worked for his freedom." 

"Father Bossi is now in good hands," she added. "We pray that he could soon gather his strength and recover from his ordeal." 

Authorities have blamed a renegade commander of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for Bossi's kidnapping.

The MILF, which is holding peace talks with the government, has denied involvement in the abduction and initially helped search for Bossi.

On July 10, 14 marines searching for Bossi in the province of Basilan were killed in fierce fighting with MILF rebels. Ten of the marines were beheaded and mutilated.

Bossi was the third Italian priest to be abducted in the southern Philippines in the last decades. The two previous victims were also released unharmed after ransom was allegedly paid.//(Deutsche Presse-Agentur/DPA)

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