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MANILA (Reuters) - An Irish priest freed on Thursday after a month in captivity in the southern Philippines said he was unharmed and treated well by his captors, and that he was not aware if any ransom was paid.
Michael Sinnott, a 78-year-old Columban missionary who was snatched from the garden of a church on Oct 11, was handed over to government officials at a coastal village near Zamboanga City on the southern island of Mindanao shortly before dawn.
Government officials have said he was kidnapped by armed men owing allegiance to a local Muslim rebel commander. The kidnappers had demanded a ransom of $2 million (1.2 million pounds).
"I am happy because I am now free," Sinnott told reporters in the local Visayan dialect before boarding an army plane to the capital Manila.
"They treated me very well. The conditions there were very primitive, but they did their best to make things as easy as possible for me," he said with a wide smile.
Sinnott said he was kept in a forested area, where he slept most of the time in a makeshift hammock. He said he believed he was abducted for ransom, but had no idea whether money changed hands.
The priest was later shown on local television sitting on a plastic chair with legs and arms crossed while waiting for his plane. He said in an interview with a local television network that his captors tried to lecture him on their ideology.
No ransom was paid for Sinnott's release, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said in a statement, thanking the U.S. and European governments and the International Committee of the Red Cross for helping in the efforts to free the priest.
"The release of Father Michael represents the successful conclusion of a major diplomatic effort by the Irish and Philippine governments," Martin said in a statement.
"As in previous kidnaps, no ransom was paid by the Irish Government. To do so would only have jeopardised the vital work of aid workers and missionaries around the world -- it would also place other Irish citizens in danger."
Major-General Ben Dolorfino told reporters Sinnott was given a medical check-up at an army base in Zamboanga before his flight to Manila.
"He's very weak and appeared disoriented," Dolorfino said.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines, had been helping in efforts to secure the release of the priest.
"Our forces on the ground exerted moral influence on the kidnappers to get the priest out," Mohaqher Iqbal, head of the rebels' peace panel, told Reuters.
Sinnott was supposed to be freed late on Wednesday but the boat bringing him to Zamboanga from the kidnappers' hideout elsewhere on Mindanao was delayed by giant waves, he added.
(Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Sugita Katyal)