ZAMBOANGA CITY: The Abu Sayyaf on Wednesday freed South Korean trader Li Pei Zhei, almost three weeks after the militant group released two German hostages.
The Western Mindanao Command said the 18-year-old Li was turned over to the police in Zamboanga Sibugay at about 3:30 a.m.
Li was abducted in his house on September 11 in Kabasalan town in Zamboanga Sibugay province, about 130 kilometers east of Zamboanga City.
It was not immediately known if ransom was paid but the military said the trader was held captive in Basilan province.
In a text message sent to The Manila Times, Capt. Franco Suelto of the 1st Infantry Division, citing an incident report, said the South Korean trader was safely released and was recovered by Philippine National Police elements at So Lugay-Lugay in Barangay Naga-Naga in Alicia town at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
He said the trader and two of his abductors left Basilan province at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and arrived at So Lugay-Lugay at about 11:15 p.m. on the same day.
The trader was directed to walk towards the direction pointed by the abductors. While walking, the trader asked a resident to bring him to the Alicia municipal police station.
Meanwhile, the military said the money in the video clip posted by the Abu Sayyaf on Facebook was fake.
The post had been taken down and the Facebook account deactivated after the video went viral in social media. The clip showed militants, some of them barefooted, surrounding the ransoms —all P1,000 bill—wrapped in transparent plastic sheet and stacked in bundles of five, and is estimated to be worth P160 million.
Abu Sayyaf spokesman Aboo Rami told Radio Mindanao Network that German yachters Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Henrike Diesen, 55, were freed on October 17 after the ransom was paid. The group demanded P250 million.
The military has strongly insisted that no ransom was paid for the release of two Germans and even dared anybody to come up with evidence that ransom had been paid to Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu province.
The duo was heading to Sabah in Malaysia on a private yacht from a holiday in Palawan province when militants who were returning to the southern Philippines from a failed kidnapping in Sabah spotted the Germans and seized them on April 25.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, a military spokesman, insisted the foreigners were freed by their kidnappers due to pressure exerted by security forces—a line which the military have used many times in previous release of foreign hostages by the Abu Sayyaf.
“Just wondering if anyone here personally saw the P250 million cold cash in the hands of Abu Sayyaf? Let’s not believe the word of Abu Rami as if he is Jesus Christ. Di na natin mababawi ang ating pinagsasabi kung mali tayo. Unless, may magsabi dito saksi sya mismo nag abot si Mr .You ng pera kay Mr. Abu, walang nakakasiguro,” he said in a reaction to Facebook commentaries by “netizens” on the reported payment of ransoms to the Abu Sayyaf.
Sources in Sulu said a private jet delivered 12 trolley bags containing ransoms in Jolo and that several bags full of money had been left in the plane.
Cabunoc branded the Abu Sayyaf statement as “propaganda” and even cited allegations in the past against the military that it delivered ransom to the militant group to buy the freedom of hostages in Basilan province in 2001. He said the military does not negotiate with terrorists.