Kidnappers demand ransom for Irish hostage

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Captors of a 79-year-old Irish missionary kidnapped in the southern Philippines have released a video in which the priest says his abductors are demanding $2 million (£1,210,405) to release him.

The video was obtained by government negotiators and broadcast on GMA television network in Manila today. It shows Rev Michael Sinnott holding a copy of the October 22 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper 11 days after his abduction.

Rev Sinnott appeals in a weak voice to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Irish government, his fellow missionaries and friends "who may have pity ... to help so that I can get out of here as soon as possible."

Gunmen seized Rev Sinnott in southern Pagadian city in Zamboanga del Sur province on October 11 in the latest hostage crisis to grip this predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

It remains unclear who is holding Rev Sinnott. The volatile south has grappled with decades of Muslim separatist unrest, and militants have conducted kidnappings in the past but denied involvement in Sinnott's abduction.

Allan Molde, spokesman for the provincial Crisis Management Committee handling the hostage crisis, said the video was handed to a law enforcer on the committee by one of its operatives today.

Mr Molde said he recognised Rev Sinnott on the video.

"He's well, he's OK, but you can see the sadness in his face," Mr Molde said by telephone from Pagadian.

He said it appeared that Rev Sinnott, who has grown some facial hair, was reading from something that was handed to him.

The GMA TV report says the missionary identified the leader of the group that kidnapped him as Abu Jamdal, but Mr Molde said he was not familiar with that person.

The video was taken outdoors, and a piece of tablecloth or bedsheet was placed behind Rev Sinnott as a background. No other person was shown but one hand could be seen helping him hold up the newspaper.

Mr Molde declined to comment specifically on the ransom demand, but said: "As you know, our government has invoked the non-ransom policy."

The GMA report said that in the video, Rev Sinnott lamented that he could not take all the medicines he needed. The priest has previously undergone heart bypass surgery.

Mr Molde said medicines have been sent through emissaries but he could not confirm that they had actually reached the missionary.

He said he had informed Rev Sinnott's superior at the Missionary Society of St Columban in the southern Philippines.