PHILIPPINES Philippine kidnappers demand $2m for Australian

Australian government said it was working closely with authorities in the Philippines but ruled out paying a ransom

January 5, 2012
Image Credit: AP

Sydney: An Australian kidnapped by suspected Muslim extremists in the Philippines said his captors were demanding $2 million in ransom as he pleaded for his life in a video released Thursday.

A distressed-looking Warren Rodwell, who was seized from his home in the southern town of Ipil on December 5, urged authorities to do all they can to secure his freedom.

"To my family, please do whatever to raise the two million US dollars they are asking for my release as soon as possible," the 53-year-old former soldier said in the video obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald. "To the Australian embassy here in the Philippines, this is your constituent appealing for his life, his safety. Please help facilitate."

"I was former army of my country but it's different here, particularly the terrain. The only solution to ensure my safety is to go with whatever they need. If I'm given my last wish, my last wish is to please help me out of here alive, please Madam ambassador," he added in the broadcast that lasted less than two minutes.

The Herald said the video was sent by the kidnappers to Rodwell's Filipina wife Miraflor Gutang shortly before Christmas. The Australian government said it was working closely with authorities in the Philippines but ruled out paying a ransom.

"There's been a policy, a bipartisan policy, of not paying ransoms for many, many years," Human Services Minister Brendan O'Connor told reporters. "Our focus at the moment is really ensuring that we do everything we can to have Mr Rodwell released. That should be our focus, that is our focus and the embassy's doing everything it possibly can to ensure that that happens."

On Wednesday Major General Noel Coballes, the local army commander in Ipil, said Rodwell, originally from Sydney, tried to fight back and was hurt when he was snatched from his home, which he shared with Gutang.

The newspaper said it had four photos of Rodwell that show him with a wound on his right hand while his left hand is in handcuffs. It said they were taken on December 12, but his condition since then is unknown. Coballes said it was possible Rodwell was being held by the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic extremist group founded in the 1990s with seed money from Al Qaida.

The group has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history and has been known to kidnap foreigners and Christians for ransom. Numerous Muslim armed groups operate in the southern Philippines, spawned by a bloody Muslim separatist insurgency that has raged for decades.

The Australian government has set up a task force to negotiate for Rodwell while the Philippine government's anti-kidnapping unit was also trying to contact the group holding him. Nigel Brennan, an Australian journalist who was kidnapped and held captive in Somalia for 15 months, said Rodwell would be living with a "constant fear of death."

"He sounds incredibly distressed, it (the video) was actually very difficult for me to listen to," said Brennan , who was released in 2009. "He will be living with the constant fear of death, he will be thinking 'are they just going to take me out one day and execute me?' Because the longer these things go on, the more valuable you become."

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