Gunmen free aid worker held in Philippine south

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MANILA, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Gunmen in the southern Philippines have freed a Filipina aid worker held captive for about two months near a Muslim rebel stronghold, officials said on Saturday.

Major-General Ben Dolorfino said they were informed that Millet Mendoza, who worked for a local non-governmental organisation helping poor Muslim communities, was freed late on Friday to a local official on Basilan island.

"She was in high spirits," Dolorfino told reporters after she saw the aid worker at a navy base in Zamboanga City on Saturday, where she underwent a medical checkup and tactical debriefing.

"I heard her story this morning, how she was maltreated and guarded by about 100 rebels while being moved from time to time in four areas on Basilan."

Officials were unaware if a ransom was paid to secure her release.

Dolorfino said Mendoza's family had been informed about her release. "I know there was a ransom demand, but I am not sure whether money changed hands for her liberty," he added.

Mendoza and four aid workers were taken at gunpoint on Sept. 15 near Tipo-tipo town on southern Basilan island when gunmen stopped a convoy carrying aid workers. Three of those initially taken were freed later. The other captive was freed on Oct. 30.

The Mindanao-based NGO was funded by donations from Malaysia.

The small militant group Abu Sayyaf and the larger Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are both active in the area, as are bandits and other criminal groups.

Separately, the military said two soldiers were killed on Saturday when rebels detonated a land mine as three army trucks returned to base after a medical and dental mission in Sarangani province on Mindanoa.

(Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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