By Carlos H. Conde
(IHT) – An Italian Catholic priest who was kidnapped in the southern Philippines was freed after 40 days in captivity, government authorities said Friday. They denied that any ransom had been paid for the release of the Reverend Giancarlo Bossi.
Bossi, 57, of Milan, was recovered by the police Thursday evening after his captors left him on a road in Karumatan, a Muslim town in Lanao del Norte Province, in the southernPhilippines.
Although it was not yet clear what group was behind the abduction, officials said the kidnappers probably were “rogue elements” of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main Islamic separatist group.
“Father Bossi is now in good hands,” President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Friday. “We pray that he could soon gather his strength and recover from his ordeal.”
At a news conference Friday, Bossi said his kidnappers had identified themselves as members of Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino terrorist group. The priest, who belongs to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, was kidnapped June 10 in Zamboanga SibugayProvince�
“From the beginning, they told me they were Abu Sayyaf,” Bossi said. He said the kidnappers merely wanted “to have some ransom,” although he did not know whether money changed hands.
The Philippine authorities said the release was facilitated by a former town mayor who negotiated with the kidnappers. Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, who was with Bossi at the news conference, said that demands for ransom were ignored. Earlier reports said the kidnappers wanted more than $1 million�
If anything good came out of the ordeal, he joked to reporters Friday, it was that he had to stop smoking. “I told myself if I want to survive, I have to keep my breathing. Better stop smoking – and I stopped smoking…”
On Friday, Bossi said he would go back to Payao, a fishing town in Zamboanga Sibugay where he was based. “I have to go back to Payao,” he said. “My heart is still in Payao.” Bossi has been in the Philippines for nearly 30 years.