ZAMBOANGA CITY: The Philippine military on Monday alerted its forces in the Sulu Archipelago near the Malaysian border after gunmen snatched two Indonesian fishermen off Sabah on Saturday.
Officials said at least five gunmen boarded a Malaysian trawler off the coastal town of Kunak in Tawau Division and abducted the fishermen.
“Reports received from the Malaysian authorities disclosed that two Indonesian fishermen of a Malaysian-registered trawler were forcibly taken on Saturday by five unidentified armed men,” Major Filemon Tan, Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command (AFP-Westmincom) spokesman, said.
He identified the two abducted Indonesians as Saparuddin Kone, boat skipper, and his crew, Sawal Maryam.
The attack took place on Merabong waters near Kunak District, Sabah.
Tan said the attackers were on a unmarked speedboat when they intercepted the trawler.
“Troops of the Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi under the Western Mindanao Command were promptly alerted for counter-action and informed air and naval assets patrolling the area to scour the sea lanes and verify possible docking sites,” he added.
Just recently, Malaysian authorities also reported that gunmen also abducted two Indonesian fishing boat skippers in separate attacks in Sabah.
They were seized by armed men on November 5 and were immediately reported to the Eastern Sabah Security Command but efforts to find and rescue the skippers failed.
The official Bernama news agency reported that the gunmen were believed to be based in Tawi-Tawi, one of five provinces under the troubled Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao in southern Philippines.
It said the gunmen spared other fishermen and only targeted the skippers.
It was not immediately known whether the abductions were carried out by the Abu Sayyaf but the notorious terrorist group tied to the Islamic State is still holding about a dozen Malaysian and Indonesian sailors kidnapped this year off Sabah and are being held in Mindanao.
Meanwhile, Brigadier Gen. Arnel de la Vega has been removed as commander of the AFP’s Joint Task Force (JTF) Sulu in the wake of kidnapping incidents in the area despite the government’s all-out offensives against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group.
But the AFP was quick to deny that de la Vega’s relief has something to do with the unabated abductions, saying the decision was based on the promotion process.
“It has nothing to do with the reported continuous kidnappings. This is based on the promotion system. The commander of the AFP-GSC has retired and the Board of Generals have recommended de la Vega as the replacement,” Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP Public Affairs Office chief, said.
De la Vega, appointed as JTF Sulu chief in the middle of this year, was named as the new commandant of the AFP Command and General Staff College (CGSC), replacing Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Santiago, who vowed out of the service Monday after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.
Col. Jesus Mananquil was designated as the new JTF Sulu commander.