Freed Finn Says Rebels Raped Female Hostages

One of the four European hostages freed over the weekend by Philippine guerrillas said some of the female hostages released earlier had been raped by the rebels, Finnish television reported today.

“They [the women] thought that it must be published, but not with names, so that the world would know,” Finn Risto Vahanen told MTV3 television’s news program prior to leaving the Philippines for Libya after his release Saturday.

He said the raped women “ were of the opinion that it had to be made public, without names, so that the world would know what Robot had done.”

Vahanen was referring to Abu Sayyaf rebel leader Ghalib “Robot” Andang.

“That was the worst that happened there. It was quite surprising because otherwise we were treated quite well,” Vahanen said.

He said the male hostages in the group on Jolo island had been unable to defend the women.

“Everybody knew that if we started to act aggressively the response would have been even harder,” Vahanen said.

Hostage Used as Human Shield

The other Finn who was released Saturday, Seppo Franti, said that one guerrilla leader had used him as a human shield during an exchange of gunfire.

Vahanen and Franti were among 21 people kidnapped by Muslim rebels from a resort on the Malaysian island of Sipadan on April 23 and taken to the southern Philippines island of Jolo. All but one, a Philippine resort worker, have been freed.

The Abu Sayyaf rebels handed over the Finns to government emissaries Saturday along with German Marc Wallert and Frenchman Stephane Loisy. The four arrived in Tripoli today.

Libya reportedly paid $1 million each to secure freedom for the four Europeans.

The last five freed women hostages were flown to Tripoli on Aug. 28 with one male hostage.

Abu Sayyaf is the smaller of two rebel groups fighting for an independent Muslim state in the southern part of the country.

Payoffs Encourage Kidnappings?

The four former hostages’ arrival in Tripoli today came amid fears that fat Libyan payoffs would only encourage more hostage taking.

However, at a news conference after arriving at Tripoli, the hostages were quick to praise Libya for securing their freedom.

“I think they have done a really great job,” Vahanen said. “It may be possible that they’ve saved our lives.”

After showing the arrival of the aircraft, Libyan state television began broadcasting patriotic songs over footage of hostages and reporters inside the VIP lounge.

A day after the four hostages were released, three men, all Malaysians, were abducted from near where Abu Sayyaf rebels kidnapped the four Europeans.

One Filipino resort worker remains in captivity from the group captured in April. Two French television journalists, seized when they visited the rebels’ camp, are still being held by the Abu Sayyaf. The guerrillas are also holding 12 Filipino Christian evangelists.

Abu Sayyaf rebels are also holding American Jeffrey Schilling.

Libyans Deny Paying Ransom

Libyan officials have denied a ransom was paid, saying they instead secured the rebels’ confidence by funding development projects in the impoverished, heavily Muslim southern Philippines.

But negotiators in the Philippines said Libya paid $1 million ransom for each of the four released Saturday and another $1 million each for six released late last month.

“Paying ransom ultimately comes back to bite you,” said Philippine presidential Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora.

The released hostages have reported sudden signs of wealth in the rebel camp — new clothes, gold jewelry. Negotiations for the remaining hostages have been suspended because of alleged fighting among factions within the Abu Sayyaf group, reportedly over the division of the ransom money.

“There was no payment with the aim of encouraging the kidnappers to carry on more operations,” Ali El Tureiki, Libya’s state minister of African affairs, told reporters in Tripoli this week. “The agreement was to do some projects to help the Muslims in the south Philippines, and the areas Libya considers itself morally responsible for.”

Muslim Libya has long-standing ties with Muslim rebels in the mostly Catholic Philippines. In addition to negotiating in previous kidnappings, it has helped build schools and mosques in the south and has been accused of training members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the larger Muslim rebel group.

Libya Reaps Diplomatic Rewards

Despite the ransom concerns, Libya was reaping diplomatic rewards for its efforts.

Libya, long accused of sponsoring terrorism and meddling in the affairs of other countries, is working to end years of international isolation. International sanctions were suspended last year when Libya handed over for trial in the West two of its government officials accused in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja headed to the north African nation to participate in a welcome ceremony for the hostages.

France and Germany were sending lower-ranking officials from their foreign ministries, though diplomats in Tripoli said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, in New York today for U.N. meetings, would try to reach Tripoli in time for Tuesday’s ceremony.

A similar ceremony held for the six former hostages released last month was an anti-American affair, held at the ruins of the house where Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s adopted daughter was killed in a 1986 U.S. bombing.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.