Negotiations begin for release of Sayyaf hostages

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - First Page -

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Private negotiations have started between suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels and employer of 10 kidnapper Indonesian sailors in southern Philippines.

The rebels demanded $1 million for the safe release of the hostages, who are all crew members of the tugboat Brahma 12. They were intercepted on March 26 off Tawi-Tawi province in the troubled Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.

Indonesian media reported that the company that owns the tugboat – Patria Maritime Lines – was willing to pay ransoms in exchange for the hostages, believed being held by Alhabsi Misaya, a rebel commander also tagged as behind the recent kidnappings of 4 Malaysian seamen in Sabah, Malaysia.

Jakarta is said to be monitoring the progress of the negotiations. Indonesian and Philippine authorities were constantly communicating in an effort to free the captives.

The Indonesian daily, Republika, has quoted Chief Security Minister Luhut B. Pandjaitan as saying: “The ship’s owner has communicated directly with the hostage takers. But the government is still waiting for further progress in the situation.”

“I think it’s the company’s decision. The government only monitors the situation, because it’s the best strategy we can take right now,” he added.

An attempt to rescue the hostages had been carried out, according to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi who met with President Joko Widodo to report on the development of the operations.

“I reported to the President about the attempt to liberate 10 ship crews and results from visits to Manila,” Retno was quoted as saying by the Indonesian media. But details of these attempts to free the hostages were not made public. “The safety of the ship crews is the main priority of all currently available options,” Retno said.

Indonesia earlier said that it is ready to send police commandos to the Philippines to rescue the hostages. Malaysia has so far maintained silence over the kidnappings of its citizens – Wong Hung Song, 44, Wong Teck Pang, 41, Wong Teck Chi, 39, and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21 – all from Sarawak in the oil-rich state of Sabah.

Last week, the Philippine military has sacked 2 army brigadier generals – Alan Arojado and his deputy Jose Cabanban – who headed the anti-terror Joint Task Group Sulu because of their failures to “neutralize” the Abu Sayyaf.

Arojado was replaced by a seasoned combat veteran Major General Gerardo Barrientos, commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Zamboanga del Sur province.

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