ZAMBOANGA CITY: Private negotiations have started between suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels and the employer of 10 kidnapped Indonesian sailors in southern Philippines.
The rebels demanded $1 million for the safe release of the hostages, who are all crewmembers of the tugboat Brahma 12. They were intercepted on March 26 in the waters 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 four 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,” he added. “The government only monitors the situation because it’s the best strategy we can take right now.”
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.
On Tuesday, the Philippine military sacked two 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 Maj. Gen. Gerardo Barrientos, commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Zamboanga del Sur province. AL JACINTO