Bossi rescue launched

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — KIDNAPPED Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi could be free by Tuesday afternoon, according to Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

Esperon said Bossi and his captors were somewhere between Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur province in northwest Mindanao.

“Let’s pray that he [Bossi] could be free this afternoon. There are ongoing operations. There’s pinpointed location,” Esperon told reporters.

Esperon said Bossi “appeared to be tired from walking for the past several days” when sighted with his captors.

Bossi was abducted near his parish church in the town of Payao, on Mindanao Island, on June 10.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Muslim separatist group in the last stages of peace negotiations with Manila, had confirmed that it was helping the military track down the kidnappers, believed to be led by a breakaway MILF leader.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu told local radio that there were “ongoing rescue operations” but that he was not discounting the possibility that Bossi would be freed “without any ransom at all.”

Kabalu earlier said the kidnappers had demanded “millions of pesos (tens of thousands of dollars)” for Bossi’s liberty.

Bossi, a 57-year-old missionary, had worked in the Philippines since 1980.

Italy and the Philippines have rejected paying a ransom for his release.

Bossi is the third Italian missionary kidnapped in the southern Philippines in the past decade.

Abductors holding captive the Italian priest escaped the dragnet in Zamboanga Sibugay and brought the hostage to another place, but top military and Muslim rebel officials, who are helping the authorities, said the new hideout has already been cordoned.

“They are now in another province. They were located as of 2 p.m. (Sunday),” said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino, co-chair of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).

He said an Army battalion and two MILF brigades have cordoned off the position of the kidnappers who have been tailed since Sunday afternoon when they were sighted.

In a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo prior to the announcement of Esperon of a rescue operation, Dolorfino said the development has forced the kidnappers to negotiate with the MILF.

He said the negotiations are being supervised by Mohammad Nasif of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces — the MILF’s armed wing.

He said the two forces — Army battalion and two MILF brigades — planned to carry out a rescue operation last Sunday to secure the priest who was snatched last June 10 in Bgy. Hilal while on his way to celebrate a mass in the nearby village of Bulawan, Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay.