Philippine troops rescued a Filipino businessman of Swiss descent Wednesday as suspected Muslim guerrillas who abducted him two months ago were moving him to a coastal village in the country’s south, officials said.
Several guerrillas fled after they landed onshore in Labuan township in the remote outskirts of Zamboanga city with their ailing captive, Charlie Reith, and saw government forces approaching before dawn, regional military commander Lt. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino said.
“They grabbed him at the first safe instance,” Dolorfino said of navy commandos who rescued Reith, a 72-year-old businessman who has had heart surgery.
Officials praised the successful rescue, the latest reminder of the often-violent kidnappings that have plagued the volatile south for decades and are blamed mostly on Muslim insurgents.
Last week, al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded three loggers they took hostage on nearby Basilan island.
Reith’s rescue was possible because military intelligence had monitored plans by the kidnappers to move him by boat to far-flung Labuan, about 560 miles (900 kilometres) south of Manila, Dolorfino told The Associated Press.
Weak, limping and visibly thinner, Reith was fed porridge and checked by doctors at a military camp then taken to Zamboanga city hall where he briefly met journalists.
When asked if there was a day he did not feel threatened, he said: “I don’t think so.”
In the early days of his jungle captivity, the kidnappers suggested he would be beheaded by slashing their necks with their fingers, Zamboanga Mayor Celso Lobregat quoted Reith as saying.
The kidnappers released a video a few weeks ago, showing Reith pleading for his life. They had demanded 20 million pesos ($435,000) and were negotiating with local officials at the time of the rescue, Dolorfino said.
Navy men and army troops were pursuing Reith’s kidnappers on land near Labuan, Rear Adm. Alex Pama said.
Gunmen seized Reith from a beach resort in Zamboanga on April 4. They also tried to kidnap his German friend, Karl Reichling, but he resisted and managed to get away.