ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 16, 2013) – Abu Sayyaf rebels holding at least 5 kidnapped foreigners have rejected demands by a former Muslim rebel group to free their captives being held in the southern Philippines, security officials said Wednesday.
Officials said a senior leader of the Moro National Liberation Front, Habier Malik, tried to negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf for the freedom of the hostages in the hinterlands of Sulu Island.
“As far as we know, the Abu Sayyaf has rejected the MNLF efforts to secure the release of the hostages, not without ransoms,” said Army Col. Rodrigo, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City.
Just recently, about 2,000 MNLF members headed by Malik, tried to persuade the Abu Sayyaf to free the foreign captives, including two Filipinos.
Rodrigo said Malik’s group has returned to their bases. “The efforts of the MNLF to secure the freedom of the hostages are unilateral on their part and have the permission of the local government officials and military commanders on the ground. But our efforts are also continuing to safely recover all the victims,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
Police said the Abu Sayyaf is holding a Japanese treasure hunter, Toshio Ito, 66, since 2010 and he was last reported to have been helping the rebel group in cooking food for them and freely moves around.
Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, the Sulu police chief, said aside from the Japanese, the Abu Sayyaf is also holding Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, 43, and his two Filipino assistants Rolando Letrero, 22, and Ramelito Vela, 39.
The trio, he said, went to Sulu province in June last year to secretly film the Abu Sayyaf for a documentary on Al Arabiya News Channel. Prior to his detention, Atyani has had previously travelled to the province in secrecy to interview terrorist leaders, the Philippine military said.
The military has previously said it would arrest Atyani for espionage should he be released by the Abu Sayyaf. Atyani had also clandestinely interviewed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Freyra said two European wildlife photographers Ewold Horn, 52, from Holland; and Lorenzo Vinciguerre, 47, from Switzerland, kidnapped in February his year in Tawi-Tawi province had been brought to Sulu.
“As long as the MNLF (members) don’t put the law in their own hands or violate the law in pursuance of their efforts, I don’t see any problem. We welcome all efforts in securing the safe release of the hostages,” Freyra said in a separate interview.
Police in Tawi-Tawi said the duo was allegedly seized by members of the Moro National Liberation Front. Another group of kidnappers are also holding a Malaysian fish trader Pang Choon Pong, who was seized in October 2011 in Tawi-Tawi, but his fate remains unknown.
In November last year, Malaysian authorities said two of its nationals were seized by 5 gunmen disguised as policemen from a palm oil plantation in Sabah near the Philippine border.
It said the two, who are cousins, were both working for the plantation in Lahad Datu, and had been taken at gunpoint. Their companions said the gunmen spoke in Malayu and Tausug, a dialect commonly used in the southern provinces of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.
There were no immediate reports whether the foreigners are being held in either of the two provinces, but Malaysia said the victims could be in Tawi-Tawi.
Abu Sayyaf rebels are also holding an Australian adventurer, Warren Rodwell, a former soldier, who was kidnapped in the seaside town of Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay province in December 2011. Rodwell, 54, is married to a Filipina Miraflor Gutang, 28.
The rebels have originally demanded $1 million ransom for the release of Rodwell, but eventually lowered this to only $460,000. It was not immediately known how much ransoms the Abu Sayyaf is asking for the remaining captives, who are being held by different rebel commanders. (Mindanao Examiner)