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Three kidnapped foreign missionaries and a 6-year-old Australian girl sailed to freedom Thursday after Philippine negotiators paid $17,000 to Muslim gunmen who seized them nine days ago.

The four female hostages - two American Christian teachers, an Australian missionary and her daughter - were handed over to a government representative at sea after the gunmen released them to the negotiators Wednesday afternoon, officials said.A Muslim negotiator said the local governor on the remote island of Jolo, where the four were abducted, paid the gunmen $17,000 to cover their "expenses."