Kidnapped boy's daring escape

A 14-YEAR-OLD American boy held hostage in the southern Philippine jungle by the feared Abu Sayyaf rebel group has made an audacious escape, fleeing barefoot and surviving on coconuts for two days while following a river to the nearest village.

Kevin Lunsmann, who had been held on Basilan Island for five months, gave his captors the slip on Friday as they were sleeping.

Villagers near the town of Lamitan found the terrified teenager hiding in bushes near the river.

Kevin, from Virginia, was kidnapped with his Filipina-American mother, Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann, and a Filipino cousin, Romnick Jakaria, while holidaying on a small island near the southern port of Zamboanga in July.

Ms Lunsmann was freeed in October, and Mr Jakaria reportedly escaped last month.

Lamitan's mayor Roderick Furigay, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Kevin "looked so skinny, with rashes all over his body".

Mr Furigay said: "He was hiding in bushes, taking cover in big foliage, when he was found."

A spate of kidnappings for ransom in the country's volatile south is blamed mainly on Abu Sayyaf, a militant Islamic separatist group that has beheaded hostages.

An Australian, Richard Rodwell, was seized at his home on Mindanao island last week, becoming the tenth foreigner to be abducted this year.

Local officials handed Kevin to US troops, who have been stationed in the southern Philippines for the past decade, training and equipping local forces to fight Abu Sayyaf.

He was then flown to the capital, Manila, where the US ambassador, Harry Thomas, said he would be reunited with his family soon.

In a statement, Mr Thomas praised the teenager's courage, adding: "In this holiday season nothing makes me happier than knowing that an innocent victim is returned to his family in time for holiday celebrations."

Some reports say Kevin's family paid a ransom of US$15,000 ((pounds sterling)9,572) soon after he and his mother and 19-year-old cousin were kidnapped.

It is unclear whether more money was paid before Ms Lunsmann, 50, was released. She was dropped off by boat at a wharf on Basilan, near the town of Maluso.

The Mindanao Examiner reported that the kidnappers had originally demanded 50m pesos (AU$1,128,956).

The mayor of Zamoboanga, Celso Lobregat, said Kevin told him that after fleeing Abu Sayyaf's jungle hide-out he followed the river "with the idea that he'll reach the ocean".

The teenager survived on sweets, presumably given to him by his captors, and coconuts, which he scaled trees to obtain.

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