MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday, September 18, said the safe release of a Norwegian held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf for a year fulfills a promise he made to the Norwegian government even before he officially assumed office.
"The best thing that happened to us this week is really the release of Kjartan because we were able to complete our promise to Norway which is giving us the good offices for space to talk vis-a-vis with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)," Duterte said in a news briefing in Davao City, after Kjartan Sekkingstad was presented to him.
Norway is the third party facilitator of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front, the political wing of the CPP.
Duterte credited the safe release of Sekkingstad and 3 Indonesian hostages of the Abu Sayyaf to the efforts of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari, Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, and former Sulu governor Sakur Tan.
"[Misuari] all along assured us that he would need time but he would succeed. It was a long, long negotiation as far as I'm concerned. I talked to Misuari even in the Cabinet meetings. I had him called, and he assured me that we would be able to recover alive and well Kjartan. And so we are here," he said, motioning to Sekkingstad who sat near him.
'Happy to be alive'
In his brief statement, Sekkingstad thanked the President, Dureza, and Misuari, as well as Norwegian officials and his families in the Philippines and Norway.
"I am very happy to be alive and free. It's a beautiful feeling," said the Norwegian.
Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines Erik Førner thanked Duterte for the Philippine government's "outstanding help" to secure the release of Sekkingstad.
"The President's personal commitment even before he took office has been crucial to solve this issue," Førner said.
Sekkingstad told reporters in Indanan, Sulu, before he was brought to Davao City to meet with Duterte that he felt "lucky to be alive." Two others in his group of 4 were – Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall were executed for non-payment of ransom – while Filipina Marites Flor was released earlier.
Sekkingstad was released to the MNLF, which turned him over to Dureza and Tan on Sunday afternoon. He was to leave Davao City Saturday night.
The Norwegian government denied it paid ransom, while the Philippine government maintained its no-ransom policy.
A military source had said a P30-million ransom payment was made for Sekkingstad.
Duterte himself had said as much in an interview with reporters on August 25, when he mentioned that P50 million had been paid for the Norwegian's release. He said then that while ransom payment had been made, Sekkingstad had not yet been released as the Abu Sayyaf wanted more money.
On Saturday, Indonesians Lorence Koten, Theorus Kopong, and Emanuel Arakain were also freed by the Abu Sayyaf after their two-month captivity. They were flown from Sulu to the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City, where they were turned over to Indonesian authorities led by Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.
From Zamboanga, the Indonesians flew back to Jakarta. – Rappler.com