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MANILA (Reuters) - Gunmen holding an Irish Catholic missionary in the southern Philippines for nearly three weeks have demanded a $2 million (1.2 million pounds) ransom, officials said on Saturday.
Michael Sinnott, a 78-year-old Columban priest, appeared on a video holding a local newspaper dated October 22 and relayed his captors' ransom demand, said Allan Molde, spokesman of a government crisis panel dealing with the abduction.
"It was our first proof of life," Molde told reporters, adding the priest was wearing a white t-shirt and looked weak.
"In the videotape, he relayed the demands of his captors and appealed to our president, his government and his brother priests to get him out soon."
Molde said local officials had agreed not to pay any ransom and to ask security forces to put more pressure on the kidnappers to free Sinnott.
The military have been informed about the ransom demand but want to validate the authenticity of the material, said military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Romeo Branwer.
"Our forces in the area are ready to use force to free the priest, but we are just awaiting instructions from authorities tasked to negotiate with the kidnappers," Brawner said.
The country's largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, had also offered to help free the priest and sought permission to deploy about 100 of its guerrillas in the area where Sinnott is believed to be held.
Sinnott was walking in the garden of the missionary house in Pagadian City on Zamboanga peninsula on October 11 when gunmen bundled him into a van and took him by boat to nearby Lanao provinces.
(Reporting by Manny Mogato; editing by Tim Pearce))