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3,000 troops fan out to Sayyaf lair

Bandits hunted down after Rodwell’s release A military commander on Sunday said more than 3,000 soldiers were hunting down about 200 members of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. “At present, we’ve six battalions in Basilan from only three battalions last year. So we’ve already a hundred percent increase of troops there,” said Maj. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz, commander of the 1st Infantry Division. The troops in Basilan included members of the military’s elite forces, the Special Forces and Scout Rangers, he added. The troop buildup was aimed at “neutralizing” the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf bandits and at helping build a circumferential road network in Basilan, Cruz said. Road construction has been delayed by attacks by the bandits and other armed groups. When finished, the road will im prove the mobility of government forces on the island, Cruz said. Earlier, the military had to down its operations to give way to the release of Australian kidnap victim Warren Rodwell, 54, who was recovered Saturday at the port area in Pagadian City amid rumors that a ransom of more than P5 million was paid. But Cruz said he had no knowledge of a ransom, and credited Rodwell’s release to military pressure and the relentless operations against the bandits. “We’ve started again massive operations against the Abu Sayyaf,” Cruz said two days after Rodwell’s release. Rodwell, former soldier, was abducted by armed men on Dec. 5, 2011, in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay, where he lived with his Filipino wife, Miraflor. Australia on Sunday expressed gratitude to the Philippine government for this recovery but was silent on any ransom paid. “This is great news for Mr Rodwell and his family. I’m advised Mr. Rodwell is now in the company of Philippines authorities, our Deputy Ambassador Andrew Byrne and a representative of the Australian Defense Force and will be moved to a safe location. The Rodwell family has shown enormous courage throughout this ordeal. All Australians would wish them well as Mr. Rodwell recovers from his 15 months in captivity,” Foreign Minister Bob Carr said in a statement. “The Philippine government had the lead role in this case and deserves congratulations for their tireless efforts on Mr. Rodwell’s behalf. His release is also a credit to Australian officials in Manila and Canberra.... The focus now is on Mr Rodwell’s speedy recovery,” he added. Philippine National Police spokesman Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbvo Jr. said a civilian named Nathaniel Tampos saw Rodwell walking alone at around 1:10 a.m. at the port area of the Pagadian Fisheries in Pagadian City. Tampos brought Rodwell to the 903rd PNP Maritime detachment. Reports quoting Australia’s Fairfax Media said the equivalent of $97,750 in pesos was handed over to the kidnappers. The reports named the negotiator as Basilan Vice Governor Al Rashid Sakalahul who told Fairfax the kidnappers were demanding some $400,000. “It was really a tough negotiation but in the end, with God’s help, we managed to secure the release of Rodwell,” Sakalahul was quoted as saying. “I don’t want to be accused by anyone that I benefited from this negotiation – that’s why I came up with this admission. My only mission is to save the life of Rodwell by getting him out of the Abu Sayyaf,” he added. Carr, however, said his government was unaware of any ransom paid. “Just be clear that the Australian government never pays ransoms. I won’t comment on arrangements that may have been made by Mr. Rodwell’’s family and Abu Sayyaf, made through the Philippines anti-kidnapping unit and their police force,” he said. The Philippine government remains firm in its position that it does not pay ransom but it is common knowledge that payments for “board and lodging” are often made prior to the release of kidnapped victims. On Sunday, the chief of the Moro National Liberation Front peace panel, Absalom Derveza, said he did not believe the Abu Sayyaf would release Rodwell without any form of payment. Sakalahul said he did not know where the money came from, but said it was coursed through Rodwell’s wife Miraflor Gutang and her brother Roger. With Francisco Tuyay  
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