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Kidnappers release Indian trader in Maguindanao

John Unson - The Philippine Star

COTABATO CITY - Kidnappers released on Friday night Indian businessman Mike Khemani who was kidnapped last October 29.

Local authorities were quick to announce that Khemani was freed without ransom, but members of the business and political communities in Kidapawan City, some of them close friends of the victim, said money was handed to the kidnappers by a courier named “Al” hours before his release.

Khemani, in his late 50s, was freed at the swampy border of Maguindanao’s adjoining Datu Piang and Kabuntalan towns, according to local officials in the province.

"There were 10 to 15 of them surrounding me always. I heard names of my captors, but I can't remember them. I can recognize their faces if I see them again," Khemani told reporters, referring to his abductors that held him for more than two weeks.

A municipal councilor in Datu Piang, who asked not to be identified, said Khemani and his captors were spotted in Barangay Andavit in the municipality three days before text messages about his release spread Friday night.

“According to reports reaching us, he was seen somewhere in Barangay Andavit accompanied by armed men. I just don’t have any information on the circumstances of his release,” the local official said.

A haggard-looking Khemani told reporters he lost weight for persistently refusing to eat the food his captors served him during his 17-day captivity.

Khemani, a vegetarian, said he drank plenty of water whenever he was hungry instead of dining along with his captors during meal time.

He said his captors treated him well and even supplied him with medicines for his arthritis.

Khemani owns the Sugni Superstore here, a department store which has branches in Kidapawan City and in Kabacan, North Cotabato.

Khemani was abducted near the premises of the Sugni Superstore here by kidnappers, who first gunned down one of his bodyguards and wounded another, before forcing him into a black Kia getaway car, which was found empty by responding policemen near a riverside area in the city several minutes later.

Khemani denied the insinuations that ransom was paid to his captors.

But police and military officials in Maguindanao said it was unlikely for the kidnappers to just let Khemani walk away without paying any ransom money.

“They (kidnappers) spent money for the planning of his abduction. They also spent money for the procurement of the black getaway car that was used in his abduction which is now in the custody of the police,” one of the sources said.

Khemani was freed three days after gunmen snatched another Indian businessman, Krishan Singh Arora, 54, while inside the compound of the Eversun plywood factory in Barangay Sarmiento in Parang town in the first district of Maguindanao.

The suspects, disguised as soldiers, took Arora at gunpoint and spirited him using a getaway vehicle.

Arora was reportedly trying to re-open the plywood factory, along with his Indian partners, after its original incorporators from South Korea shut the establishment down about a decade ago due to management problems.

ARORA

BARANGAY ANDAVIT

BARANGAY SARMIENTO

DATU PIANG

DATU PIANG AND KABUNTALAN

KHEMANI

KIDAPAWAN CITY

KRISHAN SINGH ARORA

MAGUINDANAO

SUGNI SUPERSTORE

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