Italian Freed in Philippines Returns Home

An Italian aid worker held captive in the Philippine
jungle for six months by al-Qaida-linked militants returned home to
celebrations in his small Tuscan town on Saturday.

Gaunt but smiling, Eugenio Vagni landed in Bologna and continued
on to his hometown of Montevarchi, which welcomed him with an
open-air party in a piazza.

He joked with reporters that it was good to be back,
"especially after this six-months vacation that was very hard."

On Sunday, Abu Sayyaf militants on Jolo Island freed the Red
Cross worker, ending one of the Philippines' worst hostage crises
in recent years, after the government agreed to release the two
arrested wives of the kidnappers' leader. Italy's foreign minister
has said no ransom was paid.

The 62-year-old was kidnapped with two colleagues Jan. 15 in
Jolo. Abu Sayyaf later freed the Swiss and Filipino hostages but
held on to Vagni, entering into negotiations while troops tried to
rescue him.

At a news conference in Montevarchi, Vagni recalled the toughest
moments of his captivity, including a threat of execution and a
bout of cholera, as well as the dreary daily routine of sleeping
and hammocks and surviving on a diet of rice and dried fish.

"The thought of returning home, seeing my family, my wife and
daughter, gave me the strength to go on," he said.

Vagni said he knew nothing of the negotiations and the
circumstances surrounding his release as he had no contact with the
outside and could not even communicate with his kidnappers, who
spoke only a local language.

Until he was freed, he was not even aware that the second
hostage, Swiss Andreas Notter, had been released, Vagni said.

Vagni, who waved and smiled constantly during the news
conference, added that he didn't blame Filipinos for what happened.

"The Filipinos didn't kidnap me, they were people who are
members of an organization that doesn't represent the Filipino
people," he said. "Filipinos are fantastic people, they welcomed
me very warmly and I've been told that in Manila they said Mass and
lit candles from day one."

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