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Australian released in Philippines is emaciated, exhausted and delighted

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
March 25, 2013 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
Warren Rodwell arrives at Manila International Airport on March 25, 2013.
Warren Rodwell arrives at Manila International Airport on March 25, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Warren Rodwell was taken hostage in December 2011
  • He was released early Saturday, coming ashore in a Philippine port
  • His captors were believed to be the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf
  • His family express relief after "a very difficult time"

(CNN) -- After nearly 15 months being held captive by suspected Islamic militants in the southern Philippines, Warren Rodwell is emaciated, exhausted but delighted to be free at last.

Philippine authorities found Rodwell, a 54-year-old Australian, early Saturday in the port city of Pagadian on the island of Mindanao.

He had been taken hostage in December 2011, when armed men showed up at the residence where he and his Filipina wife lived on Mindanao.

His captors, believed to be part of the Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf, demanded a ransom of $2 million, a sum the Australian government refused to pay.

As his detention dragged on, his family and officials in Australia and the Philippines continued to work to try to secure his release.

Their efforts paid off when a Philippine port employee reportedly spotted a sodden and mud-flecked Rodwell trudging ashore in Pagadian before daybreak on Saturday.

Appearing gaunt with sunken cheeks and spindly limbs in photos and videos after his release, Rodwell is now receiving medical treatment.

He was expected to be reunited with his brother and sister, who are in the Philippines.

Relief for the family

"We're happy and relieved that Warren has finally been released," his sister Denise Cappello said at a news briefing in Manila on Monday.

"I'm sure you will understand that this has been a very difficult and exhausting ordeal for Warren," his brother Wayne Rodwell said at the same briefing. "It has also been a difficult time for his family."

"He is delighted to be free," he said. "He has, however, lost a lot of weight and is exhausted. He will need special medical support as well as time and space to recover."

Reports in the Australian and Philippine news media suggested that Rodwell's family had paid a ransom worth nearly $100,000 in return for his release.

His brother and sister declined to field questions at the news conference in Manila.

The Philippine government on Sunday said that its policy is not to pay ransoms for victims of kidnappings, the official Philippines News Agency reported.

"Having said that, we have no information or confirmation on that alleged ransom that was paid," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

A separatist group

Abu Sayyaf, which wants to establish a separate state for the Philippines' minority Muslim population, has been blamed for several terrorist attacks, including the bombing of a ferry in 2004 that left about 130 people dead, as well as previous kidnappings.

Although the Philippine government agreed a preliminary peace deal last year with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a leading rebel group in the country's restive south, some extremists are still active.

"We wish the Philippine police every success in tracking down the group that took Warren from his home," Cappello said.

"We hope they will be brought to justice, so others don't have to experience what Warren has just been through," she added.

The Australian government welcomed Rodwell's release over the weekend, paying tribute to the Philippine government agencies that try to tackle kidnapping cases.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard also acknowledged what his relatives had gone through.

"Mr. Rodwell's family have shown a great deal of courage and stoicism in what has been a tremendously difficult situation," she said.

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