Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 12:48 UK

Manila seeks help to find priest

An undated picture of Reverend Michael Sinnott in the southern Philippines
Father Sinnott has spent over 40 years helping various Filipino communities

The Philippines has asked the country's largest Muslim separatist group to help find and free a kidnapped Irish priest.

Reports say Michael Sinnott was seized by gunmen in Zamboanga then put on a speedboat and taken to Lanao, both on the southern island of Mindanao.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has vowed to work to free Reverend Sinnott.

A Philippine military spokesman says it has not ruled out the abductors could be Muslim rebels who have disobeyed a guerrilla edict on ransom kidnappings.

Military intelligence suggests a "notorious pirate" in Zamboanga, Guingona Samal, was behind the plot and provided the speedboat used by up to six armed gunmen to whisk Michael Sinnott away, reports say.

Samal is said to be well known in the region for robberies against fishermen and kidnap-for-ransom attempts.

'Heart problems'

Father Sinnott - a Columban priest who is in his late seventies - is being held in a jungle camp somewhere near Sultan Naga Dimaporo, where rebels of the MILF have a heavy presence, Maj Gen Benjamin Dolorfino said.

"He is very frail because of recent heart surgery. We will exhaust all peaceful means to get him, although there is always [the] military option," he added.

Phlippines map

A senior rebel commander with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohaqher Iqbal, says forces have been mobilised to pinpoint the exact location of the Catholic priest.

"We are ready to help the government recover the priest," the rebel leader told reporters.

The Philippine military says hundreds of army troops have circled the area where Father Sinnott is believed held and that their greatest concern is that the abductors may have dealings with the radical Abu Sayyaf group, who have links to al-Qaeda.

A tentative ceasefire is still in place between the Philippine army and rebels of the MILF, believed to number around 11,000, who just a few months ago were involved in heavy fighting in the south of the country in which hundreds of people were killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced.

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