Asia - pacific

Philippine rebel chief to help find Indonesian hostages

Presidential peace adviser says separatist leader helping efforts to recover 7-10 Indonesians held by Daesh-linked group

Philippine rebel chief to help find Indonesian hostages The chair of the largest of three factions of the MNLF, Muslimin Sema, has backed the MILF’s ongoing peace process with the government, despite a faction under founding chairman Nur Misuari considering the MILF’s 2014 peace deal with the government a betrayal of a 1996 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)-brokered agreement.

By Hader Glang 

ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines

A Philippines official confirmed Thursday that the fugitive leader of a southern separatist group is helping efforts to recover more than a dozen Indonesians believed to be held captive by a Daesh-linked militant group.

“[Nur] Misuari sent word to me that he is already marshaling his forces there in order to try and work out the release of seven or 10 Indonesians that are being held [by the Abu Sayyaf],” the presidential adviser on the peace process told a forum at the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

GMA News quoted Jesus Dureza as saying that the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader asked him to relay to President Rodrigo Duterte the need to coordinate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to avoid possible mis-encounters.

In May, the Abu Sayyaf released four Indonesians to the MNLF, following negotiations initiated by Misuari. 

At least four abductions targeting Indonesian crew have taken place this year in the seawaters where kidnap-for-ransom gangs operate between the Philippines’ Muslim south and eastern Malaysia.

Earlier this month, three Indonesian sailors were kidnapped by armed men off Malaysia’s Sabah state.

In June, seven tugboat crew members were seized in a hijacking off the southern Philippine island province of Sulu -- an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.

Those seized in the two earlier incidents were later released, with Indonesia insisting that the government had not paid ransom but later warned employers to follow suit as such negotiations put others in jeopardy.

Dureza said Thursday that he did not know how Misuari would rescue the Indonesians, but underlined that “the goodwill between Indonesia and the MNLF is good" as the country had acted as facilitator in the group’s peace talks with the Philippines government.

Misuari is currently a fugitive, eluding charges filed against him and his men for a siege on the predominantly Christian city of Zamboanga in September 2013, in which around 300 people were killed. 

Dureza also revealed that there was no update on the status of a Norwegian tourist who was kidnapped from a resort on Samal island in September alongside two Canadians who were beheaded earlier this year.

"We don't have communication. They [Abu Sayyaf] cut it off especially when the operations were intensified. We lost contact already, my channels and those helping me have also lost [contact]," he was quoted as saying.

Kidnap-for-ransom gangs operating in the Sulu and Celebes seas are known to hand over their captives to the Abu Sayyaf and negotiate for a ransom that, if paid, is shared with the group.

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.

The Abu Sayyaf is among two militant groups in the Philippines south who have pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process that Daesh could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.

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