Page last updated at 21:53 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Irish priest freed in Philippines

Fr Michael Sinnott: ''They treated me very well''

A 79-year-old Irish priest held hostage for a month by rebels in the Philippines has been released.

Fr Michael Sinnott was seized by gunmen from his mission office in Pagadian on Mindanao island on 11 October.

The Irish government said it had not paid a ransom for the release of the Columban missionary.

Philippine authorities believed Fr Sinnott was being held by rogue elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Fr Sinnott, who is originally from County Wexford, underwent a heart bypass operation four years ago.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has expressed delight and relief at the release.

'Fantastic news'

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, who is in Belfast for meetings, said Fr Sinnott was being looked after and was undergoing medical checks.

We are all relieved and thankful that Fr Michael's difficult ordeal has been brought to an end and that all our prayers have been answered
Brian Cowen,
Irish Prime Minister

Mr Martin said the priest had "displayed great forbearance in enduring more than a month in captivity, in spite of his age and difficult health", Associated Press news agency reported.

Mr Martin said the release was the result of "a major diplomatic effort by the Irish and Filipino governments", although he gave no further details.

Philippine military official Maj-Gen Ben Dolorfino told AFP news agency that Fr Sinnott had been "turned over to us by the MILF".

There had been reports of a ransom demand of $2m (£1.2m; 1.33m euros) but Mr Martin insisted no money had been paid.

"To do so would only have jeopardised the vital work of aid workers and missionaries around the world - it would also place other Irish citizens in danger," Mr Martin said.

Mr Cowen said: "We are all relieved and thankful that Fr Michael's difficult ordeal has been brought to an end and that all our prayers have been answered."

One of Fr Sinnott's colleagues, Fr Donal Hogan, the Irish director of the Missionaries of St Columban, said he was delighted with the news.

"It's a relief for his family, for the Columbans and for all the people who have supported him in Ireland, in Britain and in the US," he said.

"It's just fantastic news - thank God."

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