SEVEN children and four other hostages caught up in a decades-old southern Philippines clan war have been freed in a straight swap by the feuding families, the military said on Tuesday.
The hostages, aged as young as two, were snatched last week in tit-for-tat kidnappings on the remote southern island of Basilan, a hotbed of Muslim guerrillas and other militants that the government does not fully control.
The crisis ended when a Muslim clan leader known as “Commander Hassan” agreed to release his eight hostages on Monday, said Lieutenant-Colonel Paolo Perez, commander of an army battalion stationed on Basilan.
A rival Muslim clan leader known in the area as “Jiabrin” had freed Commander Hassan’s three daughters late on Sunday, according to Perez, who said the clan dispute had been going on for the past 30 years.
“The feud ranges from previous disputes over property, aggravated by killings on both sides,” said Perez, who took part in the negotiations that led to the release of the hostages including the seven children aged between two and 14.
About 20 people are believed to have died in battles between the clans over the years, a regional military spokesman said last week.
Hassan is a member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a former Muslim separatist rebel group, while Jiabrin is a member of the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the military said.
Authorities will not seek to lay charges against those involved in the kidnappings, according to Colonel Carlito Galvez, a local military commander who helped to negotiate the end of the dispute.
“Pressing charges will further complicate the situation,” Galvez told Agence France-Presse.
Muslim clans in the southern Philippines are notorious for waging prolonged feuds, typically over land, political power or influence. They often use armed followers to attack each other.
Such feuds in the southern Philippines, which the country’s Muslim minority regard as their homeland, claimed more than 5,500 lives and displaced thousands between the 1930s and 2005, according to a study by the Asia Foundation.
The government signed a peace treaty with the MNLF in 1996, although most of its members never disarmed.
The MILF is observing a ceasefire while holding peace talks with the Philippine government. AFP