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12 June 2007

Ransom ruled out for Italian priest kidnapped in Philippines

medium_10147407.jpgMANILA, June 12, 2007 (AFP) - The Italian government has ruled out paying ransom for one of its priests kidnapped by Islamic militants in the southern Philippines, President Gloria Arroyo's chief aide said Tuesday

The United States government meanwhile has offered to fly spy planes over areas in the Zamboanga peninsula to help in the hunt for the abductors of Father Giancarlo Bossi, executive secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters.

Ermita said he had spoken with Italy's envoy to Manila, Rubens Fedele, who expressed hope Filipino troops and police would safely recover the 57-year-old missionary from the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME).

"No, they are not at all talking about it," Ermita said when asked about a possible ransom for Bossi, the third Italian priest seized in the south since 1998.

He said the US government has also offered to fly drones over the Zamboanga peninsula and outlying areas, where Islamic militants operate, in a bid to track down Bossi.

Small pockets of US forces have been stationed in Zamboanga and Jolo island for humanitarian work. They have in the past helped provide valuable intelligence information that led to the deaths of wanted Islamic militants.

The separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has also volunteered its help in the search for the priest.

The 12,000-strong MILF is on the final stages of peace talks with Manila and rebel commanders were now helping to gather intelligence data on the ground, rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu told AFP.

"We will be securing information on the ground that would hopefully lead to the early recovery of the victim," he said.

Bossi was snatched by armed men believed to be renegade members of the MILF near his parish church in a coastal village in Zamboanga Sibugay province Sunday.

Authorities said he was believed taken to a remote area in Tungawan, a predominantly Muslim coastal town, although it may also be possible he was taken to other jungle-clad islands that dot the peninsula.

The MILF has denied involvement in the kidnapping which it blamed on the leader of an armed gang, Abdusalam Akiddin -- also known as Commander Kiddie -- who had long ceased to follow the rebel leadership.

Bossi had worked as a missionary for the Rome-based PIME in the area for the past decade. He has been in the Philippines since 1980, just shortly after he was ordained.

POSTED BY /http://www.philstar.com

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