Police rescue Canadian man held hostage since early November in southern Philippines

Sunday, December 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Police on Sunday rescued a Canadian man held hostage for nearly two months by an armed gang in the southern Philippines, officials said. They said gang members died in the clash.

Police stormed the hide-out of the Pentagon gang in the village of Buenavista at around 1:30 a.m., rescuing Pierre Belanger and killing two gang members, regional police chief Bartolome Baluyot said. Buenavista is in Davao del Norte province, about 560 miles southeast of Manila.

Belanger, 51, was brought to Manila and met with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before being delivered to Canadian Ambassador Robert Collette.

``The whole thing really was terrible,'' Belanger said at the residential palace, looking sunburned but otherwise healthy.

Belanger, an Ottawa native who has lived in Davao del Sur province for the past 10 years, was abducted Nov. 4 while riding his motorcycle in the area.

He said he was held under guard in a bamboo hut and fed fish and chicken during his captivity. He said he was asleep at the time of his rescue on Sunday and directed all questions about the fighting to police.

Pentagon gunmen kidnapped four Chinese nationals in June and August. Two of the Chinese were killed while trying to escape. Another Chinese escaped but was wounded and the fourth was released, reportedly because of intervention by China, Malaysia and Libya and pressure from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a large guerrilla group that operates in the southern Philippines.

Malaysian and Libyan officials have helped negotiate the release of foreign hostages in the Philippines in the past.

Although the Pentagon is a Muslim gang, the government says they operate simply for criminal profit and have no religious motivation.

Numerous Muslim guerrilla groups operate in the southern Philippines, and several gangs such as Pentagon broke away from the main guerrilla groups. Pentagon is thought to be composed mostly of former MILF members.

Baluyot said most of the kidnappers escaped Sunday's assault under cover of darkness, leaving behind assault rifles and submachine guns.

Arroyo praised police for contributing to ``the neutralization of that particular kidnap for ransom syndicate.''

The Pentagon is believed to be much smaller than the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim guerrilla group taht is holding an American couple hostage in the southern Philppines. U.S. and Philippine officials say the Abu Sayyaf has links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.