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Norwegian Held By Abu Sayyaf Freed

PHILIPPINES

MANILA, Sept. 18 – A Norwegian national held hostage by Abu Sayyaf terrorists in southern Philippines for almost a year was freed by his captors on Saturday following secret back-channel negotiations with the Philippine government.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza made the announcement Sunday (Sept. 18) on the release of Kjartan Sekkingstad of Norway.

Dureza said Sekkingstad was freed around 2pm on Saturday (Sept. 17) somewhere in Patikul, Sulu, a known terrorist lair some 900 kilometers southwest of Manila.

Dureza said he spoke with Sekkingstad by phone shortly after the latter’s release.

"Thank you to President Duterte," Dureza quoted Sekkingstad as saying, referring to the Philippines' newly installed President Rodrigo R. Duterte, known for his hard line against criminality in the country.

Sekkingstad stayed overnight in the home of Nur Misuari, chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), who forged a peace agreement with the Philippine government during the incumbency of then President Fidel V. Ramos on Sept. 2, 1996.

Because of inclement weather with heavy downpours, Misuari volunteered to host the overnight stay of Sekkingstad before the Norwegian was turned over to the military in Jolo, the capital city of Sulu province.
 
Dureza said the men of Misuari and former Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan and other volunteers helped in the release of Sekkingstad, who was brought to Davao City where he met with President Duterte.

Davao City, the hometown of Duterte, is just 150 kilometers east from Sulu.

“His release (Sekkingstad) from captivity capped months of quiet, patient but determined efforts with the assistance of all sectors,” Dureza said.
 
Sekkingstad was taken hostage by armed men at the Ocean View Resort on Samal Island in Davao on Sept. 21015, with three others John Ridsdel, Robert Hall, both foreigners, and Maritess Flor, a Filipino woman.

Unfortunately, Ridsdel and Hall were beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf despite pleas to spare their lives.

However, Flor was released on June 23 of this year reportedly after a ransom amounting to P20 million (US$435,000) was paid.

There were reports that Sekkingstad was released after paying a ransom allegedly amounting to P30 million (US$650,000), of which the Philippine government said it has no knowledge. The Philippines strictly maintains a no-ransom policy to date.

Two weeks before Sekkingstad was released, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) mounted an offensive against the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf in Patikul, Sulu, killing 32 terrorists and wounding scores. The AFP suffered 15 killed in action.

The military offensive was ordered by Duterte to pulverize once and for all the Abu Sayyaf, which has been wreaking havoc in southern Philippines, particularly the islands of Sulu and Basilan, since 1995.

Many of Abu Sayyaf's leaders, including its founder Abdulrajak Janjalani, have been killed in the army's offensive.

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