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Video shows hostage still alive

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Deborah Snow and Ilya Gridneff

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'Proof of life' video from Australian hostage

Retired Australian soldier Warren Rodwell was taken at gunpoint from his house in the Philippines over a year ago. This video was posted on YouTube on Christmas day, on a channel allegedly associated with the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf.

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THE release of fresh video footage showing Australian hostage Warren Rodwell alive a year after his kidnapping in the southern Philippines gives some hope that a deal might be struck for his release, according to some experts.

''It's encouraging to know that he is still alive,'' said regional analyst Professor Damien Kingsbury, of Deakin University, on Thursday.

''It's very positive that [the kidnappers] have shown a video and I think that means there is some seriousness to a discussion about a negotiation for his release. I would say his chances are probably slightly better than even at the moment.''

Neil Fergus, a former Australian intelligence officer who now runs private company Intelligent Risks, also saw the video as ''some cause for optimism'', but not necessarily proof that a deal was near.

Mr Rodwell's family members in Australia were staying mum on Thursday and Foreign Minister Bob Carr would only say that Canberra was ''assisting Philippines authorities where appropriate'' and that it was in ''regular communication'' with the family.

However, there is mounting criticism that the federal government is being too cautious in its public pronouncements.

Australian policy is not to pay ransom money, which is the main source of income for the militant Islamic Abu Sayyaf group, which snatched Mr Rodwell from his home in the town of Ipil, in the southern Philippines, on December 5 last year.

Mr Fergus said the government should send a message to Mr Rodwell's kidnappers about Australia's aid dollars in the region.

''It would be helpful if the Australian government could convey some messages about the nature and extent of Australian aid going into Mindanao and the fact that their continued holding of Rodwell may place in jeopardy those programs,'' Mr Fergus said.

''Abu Sayyaf should know … that we do care about Mr Rodwell as an Australian citizen.''

Dr Bob East, an independent researcher on counter-insurgency in the Southern Philippines, also says more publicity would boost Mr Rodwell's chances of survival.

''If the coverage goes quiet, whichever group that has him might think he's not worth anything to them'' Dr East said.

Mr Rodwell, 54, a former soldier who'd spent many years in Asia, was snatched by half a dozen gunmen posing as policemen and is reported to have been taken to Basilan Island, off the Zamboanga Peninsula.

The kidnappers have demanded a $2 million ransom. At the time of Mr Rodwell's capture, he had reportedly recently separated from his second wife, a 28-year old Filipina, Miraflor Gutang.

The fresh two-minute video of Mr Rodwell appears to have been shot on December 16, and shows him clutching a copy of a local newspaper dated the previous day.

With AL JACINTO in Zamboanga

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