INDANAN (The Philippines) • A Norwegian and three Indonesian seamen held hostage in the southern Philippines were turned over to a government envoy yesterday after being freed by extremists who beheaded two captives earlier this year.
Mr Kjartan Sekkingstad and the Indonesians, who had been held by Abu Sayyaf militants, were handed over to envoy Jesus Dureza in the town of Indanan on Jolo island, said an Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene. The transfer took place at the heavily guarded camp of another Muslim rebel leader, Nur Misuari, whose group assisted in the release, according to the government.
The freed Indonesians were identified as seamen Lorens Koten, Teodurus Kofung and Emmanuel. They were abducted by armed men off Lahad Datu, Sabah, in July.
The trio were taken yesterday to the nearby city of Zamboanga, where a retired Indonesian general was waiting to pick them up.
Mr Sekkingstad was abducted from a high-end tourist resort that he managed on Samal Island, near Davao City, in September last year, along with two Canadians who were later beheaded. He appeared gaunt and frail yesterday.
"I am so very happy and lucky to be alive," he told reporters in the town of Indanan before being flown to the southern city of Davao to meet Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Mr Sekkingstad showed the media his backpack with his rubber slippers, plastic water jug and other items he used during confinement, saying he would never lose these "souvenirs".
He also thanked Mr Duterte.
Mr John Ridsdel and Mr Robert Hall, the two Canadians seized with Mr Sekkingstad, were beheaded after a ransom demand of about 300 million pesos (S$8.6 million) was not met. Mr Ridsdel was killed in April and Mr Hall in June.
"I would like to reiterate that the government maintains the no-ransom policy," said Philippines Presidential Communications Office secretary Martin Andanar.
Norwegian foreign affairs communications chief Frode Andersen told Agence France-Presse by phone that "the Norwegian government does not pay ransom in this case or any other case".
However, a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf was quoted in a local newspaper yesterday as saying the group received 30 million pesos for the Norwegian.
The Abu Sayyaf, a loose network of militants based in the southern islands of the Philippines, has earned millions of dollars in ransom from kidnappings that often target foreigners.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS