Sunday, October 19, 2014
10 More Sayyaf Hostages Pursued
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday stepped up its operations in a bid to free at least 10 more hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) following the release of two German captives Friday night in Patikul, Sulu.
“We will continue with the all-out law enforcement operations in order to serve the warrant of arrest against the ASG and locate the kidnap victims,” AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio P. Catapang Jr. told the Manila Bulletin yesterday.
Government forces launched law enforcement operations against the bandit group last Friday hours before the 3 p.m. deadline set by the ASG to behead one of its German hostages, Dr. Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, if their P250-million ransom demand was not met.
Okonek and Herike Diesen, 55, were freed Friday night.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen seized Okonek and Dielen from a yacht in April between Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo Island and the western Philippine province of Palawan. They were taken by boat to predominantly Muslim Sulu province, where militants are holding other hostages.
Abu Rami, spokesman of the ASG, said in a radio interview Friday night that the group received the ransom in full, a claim disputed by the military, who said no ransom was paid.
“The (money) arrived, nothing more, nothing less,” Rami said.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office (PAO) chief, dismissed as “propaganda” the statement made by Rami that the bandit group got “no more, no less” of their ransom demand in exchange for the freedom of their German hostages.
However, asked if he could make a categorical denial on the alleged ransom payment, Cabunoc replied, “Ah, no … if someone paid without our knowledge, but on our side, we did not negotiate with them.”
In an interview with DXRZ allowed by the militants earlier in the week, Okonek, 71, who said he was a medical doctor, appealed to “please do everything to get us out of here.”
“I hope you will negotiate my release and so with my wife,” he said, addressing no one in particular.
Okonek said he was speaking from inside a 5-meter by 3-meter (15-foot by 10-foot) “grave” the gunmen have dug for him in the jungle. The Abu Sayyaf had told him that this would be his grave if ransom demands were not met. He added he and Dielen were separated by the militants about a day before.
Catapang said Okonek and Dielen were released by the ASG at around 8:50 p.m. in Patikul. They were later taken to the 2nd Marine Brigade headquarters at Camp Teodulo Bautista in Barangay Busbus, Jolo, around 9:20 p.m. for medical checkup.
From the 2nd Marine Brigade headquarters, the victims were transported by a naval vessel to Zamboanga City where they were given additional medical attention while awaiting for their flight to Manila.
At around 6:45 a.m. yesterday the two Germans arrived at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City. A military spokesman said, “The Embassy of Germany have made arrangements for this and have taken custody over them.”
Okonek and Diesen are now safely back at the German embassy in Manila, officials said.
Germany’s foreign ministry and the Philippine military confirmed the hostages had arrived at the embassy in Manila.
“We are relieved to confirm that the two Germans are no longer in the hands of their kidnappers. They are being taken care of at the embassy in Manila,” said a German foreign ministry spokesman.
“We thank the government of the Philippines for their close collaboration, undertaken with full confidence,” the spokesman added.
Police are now preparing criminal charges against several Abu Sayyaf personalities and their cohorts.
Senior Superintendent Wilben Mayor, spokesman of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said they are now coordinating with the military and other personalities for the case build-up against the ASG.
“But first we have to identify them because the identity of the suspects are important in filing a case,” said Mayor.
“We are pursuing them (Abu Sayyaf),” said Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office (PAO) chief, as he stressed that the reason for the full deployment of troops to Sulu is not just for the two German tourists.
“We are thinking about the 10 other hostages as well,” he said.
Among the 10 kidnap victims believed to be still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf are five foreigners – European birdwatchers Eworld Horn and citizen Lorenzo Vinciguerra; Japanese treasure hunter Mamaito Katayama, Malaysian Zakiah Aleip, and mother and daughter, Dina Lim and Yahong Lim Tan.
“Anytime baka magka-encounter sa araw na ito (an encounter might break out anytime today) … they (troops) have been in pursuit,” said Cabunoc.
He added, however, that they are trying to avoid civilians getting caught in the crossfire noting that the bandits are mingling with civilians.
The AFP chief has a standing order to military combat leaders on the frontline to ensure the safety of the hostages and minimize collateral damage.
Malacañang assured that the government will continue to pursue the Abu Sayyaf.
“With the release from captivity of the two German nationals, our security forces will continue efforts to stem the tide of criminality perpetrated by bandit elements,” Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said intensified operations against the ASG will continue.
“The law enforcement operations continue as long as there are still people in their custody,” Valte said.
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