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 Philippines sends more troops to help free priest

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PostSubject: Philippines sends more troops to help free priest   Wed Nov 04, 2009 10:52 pm

MANILA, Nov 4 (Reuters) - The Philippines has sent hundreds of armed policemen to the southern region of Mindanao to force the release of a kidnapped Irish priest after rejecting an offer of help from Muslim rebels, officials said on Wednesday.

About 300 combat-trained police officers have been sent to three areas in the Lanao provinces to increase pressure on gunmen holding Michael Sinnott, said Allan Molde, spokesman for a local government crisis panel.

"We're not launching yet a rescue operation," Molde told reporters. "We're just trying to constrict their movements and contain them in one area. They are going to feel the tension in those areas."

On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno turned down an offer from the country's largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to send their own armed cadres to help free the Columban missionary priest.

Puno also linked the kidnappers with a local MILF commander in the area and barred local authorities from contacting the rebels to seek help in negotiating for the release of the priest. Sinnott was taken on Oct. 11 in Pagadian City on Mindanao.

Mohaqher Iqbal, head of MILF peace panel, has rejected suggestions that his group was holding the priest.

"It was unfair," Iqbal told reporters. "We're asking our counterparts to stop all these accusations. If Puno will not stop, then we will also stop helping secure the priest."

Sinnott was walking in the garden of a church when six gunmen bundled him into a waiting van and took him to a coastal village where he was transferred to a boat and taken to the nearby Lanao provinces.

Last week, Sinnott's captors sent local government officials a videotape of the priest holding a newspaper and demanded a ransom of $2 million. [ID:nMAN220031] (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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