MANILA, Philippines (AP) — An Australian man held hostage by militants in southern Philippine jungles for more than a year has appeared in a video looking thin and haggard as proof that he is alive while negotiations for his release drag on.
Warren Richard Rodwell, who was kidnapped from his seashore house and taken by speedboat to nearby mountainous islands where the militants are hiding, said on the video that he was being held in isolation and knew little of what was going on around him. He said he understood there are negotiations under way.
“This video clip is to say that I’m alive. I am waiting to be released,” he said, then added a few second later: “I personally hold no hope at all for being released.”
“The people who are around me normally don’t speak English. I understand something is happening but I don’t know when. I do not expect to be released before the year 2013, at the earliest,” said the 54-year-old, dressed in a black shirt and holding a copy of a local newspaper dated Dec. 15 in front of a white blanket to obscure his location. He said the recording was made the following day.
Philippine intelligence officials said Wednesday that they believe the video, which has been circulated on YouTube, is authentic.
Rodwell appeared thinner than in a previous video posted in January. A long jungle captivity carries not only obvious health risks like malaria and dengue but also a danger of getting caught in crossfire between militants and government troops.
Rodwell is a former Australian soldier who also worked as a university teacher in Shanghai before marrying a Filipino he met over the Internet in June 2011, when he moved to his wife’s town in Zamboanga Sibugay province. He was one of the latest foreigners abducted in the Philippines’ volatile south, where several kidnappings for ransom have been blamed on the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group, which uses the money for food, weapons and other items.
Military officials say Rodwell has been held in recent months by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants in their jungle hideouts on Basilan Island but had also been moved to nearby islands.
The Abu Sayyaf is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. U.S.-backed Philippine military operations have crippled attacks and terrorist plots waged by some 350 militants, who split into several groups. But they remain a serious security threat in the impoverished region where minority Muslims have been fighting for self-rule for decades.
The main Muslim separatist group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has recently signed a peace accord with the government in exchange for broad autonomy and it is hoped the agreement would isolate militants like the Abu Sayyaf.
A Malaysian and an Indian were released from a long captivity by the Abu Sayyaf earlier this year in exchange for ransom.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.
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