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Six abducted Philippines government employees freed

world Updated: Oct 26, 2009 12:17 IST

Six abducted employees of the Environment and Natural Resources Department were freed unharmed over the weekend in southern Philippines, officials said on Monday.

The kidnappers on Sunday turned over the six workers to local negotiators in the town of Sibagat in Agusan del Sur province, 810 km south of Manila.

The six hostages were then brought to a house of a Catholic bishop who helped in the negotiations, said Senior Superintendent Nestor Fajura, a regional police spokesman.

The six were among eight department employees who were abducted on Oct 21 while manning a checkpoint in a forest in nearby Butuan City. Two of the hostages were freed the following day.

The hostages were released without ransom, according to Edilberto Buiser, regional director for the department or DENR.

"The crisis ended peacefully," he said. "Moral persuasion convinced the captors to release the DENR employees."

The kidnappers were headed by a tribal leader disgruntled over a community-based forest-management agreement in Sibagat that he had demanded cancelled in exchange for the freedom of the hostages.

The kidnappers also sought the award of titles for ancestral domain land and the approval of customary farm practices.

According to the department, the forest-management agreement gave 25-year authority to tribal people's organizations to reforest, rehabilitate and develop upland timber areas.

The organizations were also authorized to supply wood for processing firms and industries in the region.

But critics noted that while the programme was a major source of income for impoverished tribes, it was also open to abuse and corruption by environmental officials.