Hostage takers issue ransom demand

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The Filipino insurgent group that kidnapped a Norwegian man, two Canadian men and a Filipina woman in the Philippines in September have finally issued their ransom demands. They want a billion pesos for each of them, or a total of around NOK 180 million (USD 21 million).

Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende reported on Tuesday that the hostage takers, tied to the Abu Sayyaf organization of Mindanao in the Philippines, had published a new video on the Internet in which the Norwegian and two Canadians read the ransom demand out loud.

Pleas for their lives
Kjartan Sekkingstad, the 56-year-old Norwegian hostage from Sotra near Bergen,  was kidnapped in the middle of the night on September 22 from a resort in Mindanao along with John Ridsdel and Robert Hall of Canada and Hall’s partner Marites Flor. Sekkingstad was working at the Oceanview Resort on the island of Samal while Ridsdel, Hall and Flor were staying at the resort.

Their whereabouts remain unconfirmed, but they’re believed to be held in the Patikul area of the island of Jolo in the province of Sulu, around 1,400 kilometers south of Manila. While the Philippines is a heavily Catholic country, a majority of the population of Sulu is Muslim, made up of descendants of Arabian spice traders who settled in the islands in the 15th century. Tensions have continued since the Philippines was colonized by the Spanish more than 400 years ago.

The video shows them sitting on the ground surrounded by several men, many of them masked. From his spot next to a man with a large knife, Sekkingstad claims he’s well given the circumstances and he pleads for his life. He asks that the hostage takers’ demands be met, claiming they’re “serious” and “very dangerous.” The two Canadians make similar pleas, while the Filipina hostage remains silent.

‘Norway won’t pay’
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who went on live nationwide TV in September to announce the kidnapping, already has said that Norway will not pay ransom. That hasn’t changed.

“Our main focus is on the hostages’ lives and health, and on the work to get them freed,” Frode Overland Andersen, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Both the ministry and the (Norway’s) embassy (in the Philippines) is working constantly on the case, and we have ongoing contact with the relevant countries’ authorities.”

Overland said the ministry was aware of the video but wouldn’t comment on it. “Our position regarding ransom is well-known,” Overland added. “The state won’t pay ransom.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund