By Ainur Rohmah
With the latest deadline for a ransom payment fast approaching, Indonesia says it has established intensive communication channels with the Philippines government for the release of seven its nationals.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi was quoted as underlining to reporters Sunday that the situation is more difficult than in previous situations, as the kidnappers -- the Abu Sayyaf -- are currently involved in an offensive with the Philippines government in their southern Philippines island stronghold of Sulu.
"There is a lot of fighting on the ground which makes the situation more difficult than ever," Marsudi was quoted as saying by kompas.com.
The Abu Sayyaf militant group is holding seven Indonesians it kidnapped June 20 in the Southern Philippines jungles of Sulu, for which it has reportedly asked a ransom of 250 million pesos ($5.6 million) be paid by Aug. 15.
Complicating matters is that the Philippines -- in cooperation with a local Moro group, the Moro National Liberation Front -- is currently engaged in a large-scale effort to clamp down on the group and free the hostages.
Earlier this year, the Abu Sayyaf beheaded two Canadian hostages after ransoms failed to be paid. It has also threatened to decapitate a Norwegian captured with them in September if a 300 million pesos ransom demand is not met.
Marsudi said she continues to communicate with her counterpart in the Philippines, hoping that the military operation does not compromise the hostage safety.
"[However], we understand the dynamics of the situation on the ground," she underlined.
On June 20, the Abu Sayyaf ambushed a tugboat -- the TB Charles -- carrying 13 Indonesians in the waters of Sulu, in the southern Philippines.
While six of the crew were released, seven others were taken, their abductors then demanding the ransom.
The Abu Sayyaf is reported to have communicated the demand to the victims' families Aug. 1, along with a deadline of 14 days.
On Sunday, local news portal tribunnews.com reported a relative of one of those on board as saying that the families are extremely depressed over the situation.
"[But] we keep praying. We expect no bad things to happen to our family and the TB Charles crew," Elona -- many Indonesians have just one name -- said.
Outside of the seven men, the Abu Sayyaf is also reported to be holding the three-man Indonesian crew of a Malaysia-flagged fishing vessel abducted July 8.
The foreign ministry has said that four different kidnappings have occurred in Philippines waters this year, although 14 Indonesians were released following a double kidnapping in March.
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.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.
The Abu Sayyaf is one of two militant groups in the south that has pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process with the country's largest Moro group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that Daesh, that they could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.