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Abu Sayyaf frees Norwegian hostage in Sulu

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group has released its Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad.

The Abu Sayyaf released Sekkingstad at around 2 pm Friday, September 16, in Patikul, Sulu, Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said in a statement  Saturday night, September 17.

"His release from captivity capped months of quiet, patient but determined efforts with the assistance of all sectors," Dureza said.

Dureza said he had a phone conversation with Sekkingstad whose first words to him were, "Thank you to President Duterte."

He said that the men of Moro National Liberation Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari and former Sulu governor Sakur Tan, "and other volunteers" helped facilitate Sekkingstad's release.

"He is now staying overnight at the place of MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari in Barangay Kagay who volunteered to host his stay due to heavy rains and nightfall....I will fly him out of Jolo town tomorrow morning," Dureza added.

Sekkingstad is the last Abu Sayyaf captive from the group of 4 abducted in Samal Island in Davao del Norte in September 2015.

Norway said the release was a "positive development," adding that it was closely monitoring the situation and working with Philippine authorities to bring Sekkingstad to safety.

"According to Philippine authorities, Sekkingstad is now in a relatively safe place," Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende said in a written comment to Agence France-Presse.

"We refrain from celebrating until Sekkingstad has been safely handed over to Philippine authorities."

Ransom paid?

Sekkingstad's captors freed him after reportedly receiving a ransom of P30 million ($627,228),  according to a source from the intelligence unit of Joint Task Group Sulu.

The source also said that the release was facilitated by the group of MNLF Commander Tahil Sali, and that Sekkingstad was brought to the house of the former Sulu governor while there was a brownout in the area.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said in a statement on Saturday night that "intense pressure" from pursuing government troops led to Sekkingstad's release.

"Under the intense pressure of focused military operations, the terrorist kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf Group was constrained to release Sekkingstad as holding him under custody slows down their continues movement," the AFP said.

Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte said P50 million had been paid for the Norwegian's release. On August 25, Duterte said despite the payment of the ransom, Sekkingstad had not yet been released, and that the Abu Sayyaf wanted more money.

"They kept on postponing it [the release] because of the huge sum of money. Millions. 'Yung Norwegian, bayad na 'yon (Ransom has been paid for the Norwegian)," Duterte told reporters last August.

Duterte was supposed to present Sekkingstad in a briefing at the Mindanao Development Authority office in Davao City early Saturday night, according to a Palace media advisory, but the event was cancelled due to bad weather in Sulu.

Filipina Marites Flor had been set free earlier. Her boyfriend, Robert Hall, and Hall's fellow Canadian John Ridsdel were beheaded after the deadline for their ransom payment lapsed in June and April, respectively. The Canadian government is observing a no-ransom policy.

On June 25, Norwegian Ambassador Erik Forner went to see Duterte during Flor's release. The two leaders talked about negotiating for the release of Sekkingstad. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

$1 = P47.82