September 29, 2014 / 9:54 AM / 3 years ago

German captives plead to be set free in southern Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) - Two Germans being held by an Islamist group in the southern Philippines appealed to the Philippine and German governments to secure their release through a message on local radio on Monday, days after the militants threatened to kill them.

Soldiers stop a vehicle at a military checkpoint in Jolo, Sulu, southern Philippines September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

The Abu Sayyaf group has demanded that the German government stop supporting U.S. action against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and wants a ransom paid for the captives. It has said it would behead one of them if the demands are not met by Oct. 10.

“Hopefully, our government will do all they can to get me free,” a male captive, who identified himself as a medical doctor, told a radio station based in Zamboanga City.

“We were sailing on our sailboat and unfortunately I was taken hostage,” he said, adding that he was concerned for his health.

According to media reports, the two Germans were seized at gunpoint from a yacht between Malaysian Borneo and the southern Philippines in April.

They have previously been identified by Philippine military officials as Stefan Okonek, a doctor in his early 70s, and Henrike Dielen, in her mid-50s.

In the radio broadcast, a female captive appealed to the authorities to get them out soon, saying that “living in the jungle is also very dangerous because we can contract any tropical disease”.

“I would also like to address the Philippine and German governments to do all they can because we are living in a difficult situation,” she said. “I really wish to see my family again ... The situation here is very, very stressful.”

Abu Sayyaf rose to prominence in the early 2000s by kidnapping foreigners. It has links with al Qaeda, although analysts and Philippine security sources say it has focused lately on kidnapping to get ransom money and on other criminal activities.

Police intelligence authorities told Reuters the radio broadcast appeared to be authentic.

A rebel who spoke during the broadcast identified himself as Abu Ramin, spokesman of Abu Sayyaf, but an intelligence source said it was Muammar Ascali of Patikul town in the southern island province of Sulu, who authorities say was one of the original kidnappers of the two Germans.

General Gregorio Catapang, the Philippines’ armed forces chief, said the army would not be pressured by the demands. “We are doing our best to locate and rescue them,” he said during a visit to Zamboanga City. “We don’t want them to be collateral damage in this conflict.”

(1 US dollar = 44.9300 Philippine peso)

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Alan Raybould

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