Philippine worker recounts Algeria hostage drama

MANILA, Jan 19, 2013 (AFP) -A Philippine worker taken hostage by Islamist militants at a remote Algerian gas field recounted on local television Saturday how he escaped from his kidnappers' clutches.
Jojo Balmaceda, employed by British oil giant BP, and three fellow Filipino workers were taken at gunpoint as they arrived for work, tied up and thrown into a truck along with Japanese and Malaysian hostages, the GMA network reported.
Balmaceda escaped when the truck was hit by an explosion but sustained a gunshot wound to his head which had affected his hearing, the station added.
"After that I ran away, fearing that the vehicle would explode. Then I lost consciousness and when I woke up I was already in hospital," Balmaceda said in a brief telephone interview.
"I hope to get on a flight so I would be back home tomorrow," he added.
GMA said it interviewed Balmaceda shortly before he was flown to London.
Philippine foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez did not address AFP queries on Balmaceda specifically and Philippine embassy officials in London were unavailable for comment.
Hernandez said 34 Filipino workers had been evacuated from the Algerian gas field and were on their way home to the Philippines.
"We have sent a team from our embassy in Tripoli to Algeria to monitor the incident on the ground and assist overseas Filipino workers who may need assistance there," he said.
Hernandez did not reply to AFP queries on whether there were other Filipino casualties or hostages. Press reports said that at least two Filipinos were among those killed in the rescue operation.
BP said it had evacuated hundreds of workers from Algeria amid the "serious" hostage crisis.
Militants seized the plant in the north African desert on Wednesday to avenge what they said was Algiers' support for French military action in neighbouring Mali.
The Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen, cited by Mauritania's ANI news agency, said they still held seven foreigners. An Algerian security official put their number at 10.
International criticism of the haste with which Algeria launched a dramatic military assault to rescue those held has been mounting, after an Algerian security official said it had left dead 12 hostages and 18 kidnappers.
Hernandez estimated on Friday that there were about 3,400 Filipinos working in Algeria, among about nine million Filipinos who work around the world where they earn more than they could in their poverty-stricken home country.

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