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(LEAD) Five S. Koreans released by Philippine kidnappers after ransom payment

All Headlines 16:13 February 16, 2012

(ATTN: UPDATES with additional hostage, round up of suspects, more details throughout)

CHEONAN, South Korea, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- Five South Koreans were recently released by kidnappers in the Philippines after paying a ransom, police said Thursday.

The freed hostages were four sports club members from Cheonan, 92 kilometers south of Seoul, and a tour guide who traveled with them to Manila on Saturday for a four-day leisure trip, according to police here.

Eight other members of the club took part in the trip, but they remained safe.

Philippine police rounded up 10 people, including a local police officer, in connection with the case, according to a victim who gave only his surname Kim.

"One of our members who was kidnapped received a phone call this morning from a South Korean consul in Manila," he said. "I believe we were being held at a police station after being kidnapped."

The abductees and the 33-year-old guide, whose name was withheld, were forced into two cars in front of their hotel by at least five unidentified gunmen on Tuesday morning, the police said. They had planned to do some last-minute shopping before leaving the country that afternoon.

"The guide told us we only had two hours left until departure, and asked if any of us would like to go shopping," one of the victims was quoted as telling the police. "(The kidnappers) seemed to be an organized criminal gang that included local police, judging from the fact that they knew about our plans."

The kidnappers then told one of the hostages to go and inform the other members of the group, demanding a ransom of 24 million won (US$21,295), or 6 million won for each abductee excluding the guide, the police said.

All of the abductees were released the same evening after their families paid the ransom. South Korean police, who were informed by the victims' families, asked for help from the South Korean Embassy in Manila and the Philippine police.

"We went to a local police station after we were freed, and they pointed out a police officer as a suspect," the same victim said.

Police here said the guide was working as a freelancer without any affiliation to a travel agency, and is suspected of possible involvement in the kidnapping.

"None of the hostages appear to have suffered any problems with their health," a police official said.
(END)

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