KIDNAPPED JAPANESE RELEASED IN SURIGAO

Zamboanga City, Jan. 29, 2003 (By Al Jacinto, PHNO Mindanao Bureau) - Gunmen have freed a kidnapped Japanese trader in the southern Philippines after five days in captivity, officials said.

A regional police commander Chief Supt. Albert Olario said the 48-year oldHazumitsu Hashiba was freed late Tuesday in Dinagat island off Surigao del Norte province.

"The kidnapping is solved and there is no money involved for his release, according to the victim's (Filipino) wife Mercedita Lupio," Olario said.

Hashiba waskidnapped by five masked gunmen Jan. 23 inside their home in Lanuza town in Surigao del Sur province.

Olario said police forces have pinpointed the kidnappers' hideout and that the gunmen have freed theforeigner to avoid armedclashes with pursuing security forces. "We have identified all the kidnappers and there is an ongoing operation against them," Olario said.

He said the victim's family told the police that no ransom was paid. Thekidnappers, believed to be Lumad tribesmen, had originally demanded two million pesos ($37,000).

But sources said an unspecified amount of money was paid to the kidnappers by the victim's Filipino family.Sources claimed two unidentified Japanese embassy officials, who arrived in the province Tuesday, were said to have given the ransom in exchange for Hashiba's release, but this could not be independently confirmed.

Presidential assistant for Mindanao affairs Jesus Dureza said the foreigner was spotted by fishermen walking in the village of San Jose on Dinagat island. "He was walking there when villagers found him and then they went to thepolice," Dureza said.

"He was released because of the pressure from the operations by Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. No ransom was paid for Hashiba's freedom," Dureza said.


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