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Islamist militant rebels release 10 Indonesian hostages in Philippines

Islamist militants in the southern Philippines have freed 10 Indonesian sailors who were abducted at sea five weeks ago. It is not clear whether a ransom was paid to secure their release.

Philippine police said unknown men dropped the captives off outside the home of the provincial governor on the remote island of Jolo on Sunday.

"They were there. I saw them," Jolo police chief Junpikar Sitin said. "They appeared tired but were in high spirits."

The 10 freed hostages ate lunch at the governor's home before being taken to a local army base where arrangements were made to hand them over to Indonesian officials. The men were crew members on a tugboat that was

hijacked by Abu Sayyaf militants

in late March.

Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin welcomed their release, but said he was not aware whether a ransom had been paid.

"If this big release came in exchange for money, those who paid are supporting the Abu Sayyaf," he said. "This money will be used to buy more firearms and will be utilized as mobilization funds by these criminals."

Extortion and murder

It is widely believed that Abu Sayyaf would not have released captives without receiving payment. Last Monday the group

beheaded Canadian hostage John Ridsdel

after the expiry of a ransom deadline. The 68-year-old was kidnapped along with three other people from a resort last year.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the killing "an act of cold-blooded murder" and has urged countries not to pay ransoms. Philippine troops have since

launched an offensive

aimed to stamp out the group.

Abu Sayyaf rebels

Abu Sayyaf is a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines

Abu Sayyaf is on the US and Philippine list of terrorist organizations. The group is known for carrying out bombings and kidnappings, and is thought to have amassed tens of millions of dollars from the ransom business.

The militants still hold more than a dozen other foreign and local hostages, including citizens from Japan, Norway and the Netherlands.

Foreign ministers from the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are scheduled to meet in Jakarta on Thursday to discuss ways to boost security in the waters between the three countries.

nm/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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