Manila: The military said intensified operations by their forces coupled with non-military assistance from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had led to the release of Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad.
“The release of the kidnap victim is an offshoot of the ongoing military operations to sustain pressure against the Abu Sayyaf group and of the assistance of the Moro National Liberation Front,” Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said on Sunday.
The statement was apparently made in response to reports that the Abu Sayyaf freed the Norwegian following the payment of a P50 million (Dh3.8 million) ransom.
Echoing Padilla’s statement, Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Office said no money changed hands to facilitate the release of Sekkingstad.
“I repeat, the government maintains a no-ransom-[for]-hostages [policy],” Andanar said, adding that if the family of Sekkingstad had indeed paid money to the hostage takers it would be in volition of state law.
Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the peace process, said following Sekkingstad’s release, the Norwegian stayed overnight at Misuari’s place in sitio Kagay in Patikul.
“Misuari volunteered to host his stay due to heavy rains and nightfall. Men of Misuari and former Gov. Sakur Tan and other volunteers helped in the release,” said Dureza.
“His first words when I spoke to him on the phone: ‘Thank you to President Duterte.’”
The government had persistently denied paying ransom whenever a foreigner or local had been victimised by the Sulu and Basilan-based terror group, although insiders had said that the hostages were released in exchange for money.
The policy of non-payment of ransom was adopted by the government in the early 1990s to prevent terrorists from using the threat of abduction to negotiate for political or monetary concessions.
Sekkingstad, 56, was released by Abu Sayyaf Group at around 2pm on Saturday in Sulu ending a nearly year-long captivity.
The Norwegian was snatched from a resort in Samal Island in Davao del Norte on September 21, 2015, together with Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall as well as Filipina Marites Flor.
Ridsdel and Hall were eventually executed after officials resisted paying ransom but Flor was released without paying ransom.
Besides Sekkingstad, the MNLF also helped secure the release of three Indonesian nationals taken from a barge transiting the Sulu Sea from Indonesia to deliver coal to Davaoin another location.