Philippines jungle captivity 'devastating', freed Norwegian hostage says
Published 18/09/2016 | 12:46
A Norwegian man freed by militants after a year of jungle captivity in the southern Philippines has described the ordeal as "devastating".
Kjartan Sekkingstad was freed by his Abu Sayyaf captors on Saturday to rebels from the larger Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which has signed a peace deal with the Philippine government and helped negotiate his release.
On Sunday, he was handed over to Philippine authorities, along with three Indonesian fishermen freed separately by Abu Sayyaf.
Mr Sekkingstad was freed carrying a backpack with a bullet hole as a reminder of a near-death experience that included the beheadings of the two Canadians kidnapped with him.
The Norwegian said he survived more than a dozen clashes between Philippine forces and his captors in the lush jungles of Sulu province.
In one intense battle, in which the forces opened fire from assault helicopters and from the ground, he said he felt a thud in his back and thought he was hit by gunfire.
After the fighting eased, he discovered he was not hit and that his green, army-style backpack had been pierced by the gunfire instead.
Heavily-bearded Mr Sekkingstad, clad in a rebel camouflage uniform and muddy combat boots, was asked how he would describe his horrific experience. "Devastating, devastating," he said.
Philippine presidential adviser Jesus Dureza, who received Mr Sekkingstad and the three freed Indonesians from MNLF rebel chief Nur Misuari in Mr Misuari's rural stronghold near Sulu's Indanan town, accompanied the Norwegian on a flight to the southern city of Davao, where the ex-hostage was to meet President Rodrigo Duterte.
Mr Sekkingstad was kidnapped from a yacht club he helped managed on southern Samal Island in September 2015 along with Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, and Mr Hall's Filipino girlfriend, Marites Flor.
Abu Sayyaf demanded a huge ransom for the release of the foreigners and released videos in which they threatened the captives in a jungle clearing where they displayed Islamic State group-style black flags.
Mr Ridsdel was beheaded in April and Mr Hall was decapitated in June after ransom deadlines lapsed. When Ms Flor was freed in June, she recounted in horror how the militants rejoiced while watching the beheadings.
Mr Sekkingstad said he and his fellow captives were forced to carry the militants' belongings and were kept in the dark on what was happening around them. At one point, he said, their heavily armed captors numbered more than 300.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr Sekkingstad had been ransomed off.
Mr Duterte suggested at a news conference last month that money had been paid to the militants but that they continued to hold on to him. The military said Saturday that relentless assaults forced the extremists to release the hostage.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, police and diplomats "have done a great deal of work" to have Mr Sekkingstad released, and thanked Mr Duterte and Mr Dureza.
The three Indonesian fishermen freed by Abu Sayyaf were kidnapped in July off Lahad Datu district in Malaysia's Sabah state, according to officials.