Hostage mayor freed in Philippines

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 2:07am

Suspected al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines have freed a mayor after seven months of captivity in a southern jungle.

Regional army spokesman Captain Alberto Caber said Jeffrey Lim, 36, was freed before dawn yesterday near Zamboanga city and has been handed over to his family.

Lim had been missing since April 2 when at least 10 gunmen disguised as policemen kidnapped him while having dinner with his family near a bus terminal in the town of Salug.

From Salug, he was believed to have been brought by boat to the jungles of nearby Basilan Island, where Abu Sayyaf was founded, Caber said.

Jesus Lim, the mayor's father, said that an ransom had been paid to the kidnappers through a negotiator to secure the release of his son, who had a tearful reunion with his wife and three children.

Apart from bruises on his feet from walking barefoot in the jungle and weight loss, the freed mayor was well and would resume his work, said Lim.

"It was the hardest seven months of his life," Lim said. "There was no TV and radio. He didn't even know how long he was away because there was no calendar."

Six men armed with M16 rifles guarded the mayor, who was made to sleep in the open on a hammock and survived mostly on rice with vinegar or sugar. On better days, fried chicken and fish were served, he said.

The gunmen constantly moved at night, blindfolding the mayor, who was made to walk barefoot. They bound his hands with masking tape after his abduction but later became lenient, even sharing cigarettes with their captive, who was not previously a smoker, his father said.

Lim's family later managed to send some items, including a notebook and a pen, through a negotiator, allowing the mayor to sketch trees.

The gunmen later seized the sketches, apparently fearing the drawings might compromise their security, he said.

Ransom kidnappings are common in the southern Philippines, where a long-running Muslim rebellion has fuelled decades-long unrest. But mayors are rarely targeted.