Report: Kidnappers Release Photos of Italian Priest Held in Philippines

The kidnappers of an Italian priest, seized nearly a month ago in the southern Philippines, have released three photos of the captive missionary, a Vatican-affiliated news agency reported Friday.

The photos of Rev. Giancarlo Bossi, 57, were received Friday by a fellow priest, Rev. Gianni Sandalo in the Philippines, said AsiaNews, a missionary news agency close to the Vatican.

The photos were taken after the kidnapping in the southern Mindanao region, as they show that Bossi has lost weight, and are the first sign that the priest is alive, Sandalo told AsiaNews.

The report did not say how Sandalo received the photos. Bossi's fellow Italian priests in the southern Philippines from the Rome-based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions have previously said the abductors had not contacted them.

The three photos were published on the Web site of MISNA, another missionary news agency, and show Bossi sitting on the ground and surrounded by vegetation, wearing a striped blue shirt and brown shorts. In one image, he looks into the camera and in the other two he holds what appears to be a radio.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said that the images have been circulating in the Philippine media and that it was trying to determine when they had been taken.

The Philippine military has mounted a massive search for the missionary from Milan, who was seized by gunmen in southern Zamboanga Sibugay province June 10, but this week it ceased cooperating with Muslim separatist rebels, who pulled out from the area.

The government and the rebels, who have been engaged in sensitive peace talks, said they needed more time to renew an accord allowing them to operate jointly to interdict criminals and terrorists.

The rebels have denied any hand in the abduction, saying the gunmen holding the priest were demanding a ransom.

Italy has sent Margherita Boniver, a prominent lawmaker and veteran of several humanitarian missions, to the Philippines to help work for Bossi's release.