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ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Jun) – Confusion and misinformation continue to make it more difficult for Philippine authorities to track down a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest in the restive and poverty-stricken region of Mindanao.

Fr Giancarlo Bossi, of the Pontificio Instituto Missioni Estere (PIME), remains in captivity since June 10 after rebels seized the 57-year old missioner from Milan in the coastal town of Payao in Zamboanga Sibugay province.

Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is helping Filipino authorities in the search for Bossi, said kidnappers demanded “tens of millions” of pesos in ransom.

Another rebel leader Mohagher Iqbal said Bossi’s captors were asking only P15 million.

The MILF is negotiating peace with the Philippine government, but police and military tagged one of its commanders, Akiddin Abdusallam, as the leader of the gang which is holding Bossi.

And Marine Maj. Gen. Mohammad Dolorfino, head of the government ad hoc joint action group, which is in-charge of the negotiation for Bossi’s freedom, said the kidnappers have not until now demanded any ransom.

And PIME priests in the Philippines are longing for information about whether Bossi is still alive or not. And with no fresh news about an early release, the agony continues for Bossi’s family and relatives in Italy.

Unconfirmed news reports aired by radio stations and televisions added to the confusion over Bossi’s whereabouts.

Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, a regional army commander, said Bossi could still be in Zamboanga Sibugay contrary to reports that kidnappers have sneaked the priest in the province of Lanao del Norte in the Muslim autonomous region.

“We believed Father Bossi is still in Zamboanga,” Cedo said without further elaborating.

But Dolorfino, who is working closely with MILF forces, said fresh reports suggested that Bossi is being held captive in Lanao del Norte.

“Until now we have no reports about Bossi’s fate and we are waiting for our emissaries to give us something about the priest,” he told the independent newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner, late on Wednesday.

Dolorfino said they have sent three emissaries Tuesday to Lanao del Norte province to get proof that Bossi is alive.

One of the three emissaries, who uses the codename “Sultan”, was a key negotiator in the release of a kidnapped Italian priest Luciano Benedetti in Zamboanga del Norte province in 1998. Benedetti, 52, was held for nearly 10 weeks until he was freed in exchange for a huge government ransom.

PIME’s Philippines superior, Rev. Gianni Sandalo previously said they have no reports about Bossi. Although a photograph of a man in the middle of a mangrove – whose legs – were only shown on a blog dedicated to Bossi had an M16 rifle pointed to him.

The photo raised suspicions that there is a secret negotiation going on for the safe release of Bossi in exchange for money. But the picture was taken out Wednesday after Philippine media reported about the mysterious photograph believed that of Bossi in the marshland of Zamboanga Sibugay.

The blog now shows two undated close-up photos of Bossi, the third Italian missionary kidnapped in Zamboanga Peninsula the past ten years. It said Bossi’s kidnappers were heading to Lanao del Sur province.

Kidnappings-for-ransom has become a lucrative business for rebels and criminal syndicates in Mindanao, where many areas are underdeveloped and job opportunities are scarce. Sometimes gangs kidnapped civilians and hand them over to rebels in exchange for a cut in the ransom. Poverty has been blamed for many kidnappings in the South.

In 2001, renegade MILF rebels also snatched Fr Giuseppe Pierantoni as the 44-year-old from Bologna said mass in the parish church of Dimataling town in Zamboanga del Sur.

The priest was freed after six months in captivity in exchange for an unspecified ransom, but he claimed to have escaped from his kidnappers. His companions claimed he suffered from Stockholm syndrome, a phenomenon in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to his or her captor. (Mindanao Examiner)

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