MANILA Three Indonesian fishermen held by Islamic State-linked rebels in the Philippines have been released, a Philippine military spokesman said on Sunday, just hours after the militias freed a Norwegian man after a year-long ordeal.
The Indonesians - identified as Lorence Koten, Teo Doros Kofong, and Emmanuel Arakian - were released by the Abu Sayyaf group on Saturday night at an undisclosed place in Sulu in the Southwest Philippines, said spokesman Major Filemon Tan. They were taken on July 9 this year from the Malaysian state of Sabah, he said.
The Indonesians were set free just hours after the same group notorious for kidnappings, beheadings and extortion released Norwegian captive Kjartan Sekkingstad, who met President Rodrigo Duterte in Davao City on Sunday evening.
Sekkingstad was taken from an upscale resort on Samal island in Davao del Norte along with a Filipina, who has already been freed, and two Canadians, whom the militants later executed.
While it is widely believed that no captives are released by the Abu Sayyaf without the payment of ransom, the Philippine government said it did not pay the group and was unaware of any payment made by other parties for the release of the victims.
"I would like to reiterate that the government maintains the no-ransom policy," Communications Minister Martin Andanar said. Now if there was a third party who made the payment, if it's the family (of those kidnapped), we are not aware of that."
The Philippine military insists the release of the kidnap victims was a result of the ongoing intensified military operations against the Abu Sayyaf, with the assistance of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), one of the two major Muslim rebel groups based in the south of the mainly Catholic nation.
In a media briefing in Davao City, Duterte lauded the efforts of his peace adviser Jesus Dureza, former Sulu Governor Abdusakur Mahail Tan, and MNLF leader Nur Misuari.
Dureza confirmed the release of the Indonesian captives.
Duterte told Sekkingstad and the Norwegian government that justice would be sought for his abduction.
"I am very happy to be alive and free," Sekkingstad said at the briefing.
A new round of peace talks between the Philippine government and the Maoist-led rebels resumed in Norway in August to end nearly five decades of conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people.
(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Eric Meijer and Elaine Hardcastle)