SEVEN Indonesian sailors have been kidnapped at sea in Mindanao, the Indonesian government said Friday, the latest in a spree of abductions by armed gangs in the strife-torn region.
News of the abductions came as the Abu Sayyaf kidnap gang released Marites Flor, the Filipina girlfriend of Canadian hostage Robert Hall, who was beheaded earlier this month after the bandits’ ransom demands were not met.
The Indonesian crew were towing a coal barge in the Sulu sea on Monday when their tugboat was hijacked by armed groups, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.
Seven sailors were taken hostage in two separate attacks on the vessel around an hour apart, Marsudi added. The six other crew aboard the tugboat were left unharmed.
“The government will do everything possible to free these hostages,” Marsudi told reporters.
“The safety of these seven Indonesian citizens is our priority.”
A spokesman for the foreign ministry said he could not confirm whether a ransom demand had been made, or if the Abu Sayyaf was responsible for the abductions.
Earlier this year the group kidnapped four Malaysian seamen and 14 Indonesian sailors, holding them in their stronghold in Sulu. They were freed several months later but there was no information on whether a ransom was paid.
A spokesman for the Philippine government said they were working to verify the report.
If confirmed, it would be the third kidnapping of Indonesian sailors this year.
Defense officials from the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed this week to consider coordinated steps including possible joint patrols to tackle a wave of seaborne crime in the Sulu and Celebes seas, which together form a key waterway among the three countries.
Abu Sayyaf, a small band of bandits, is highly active in the region and specializes in kidnappings-for-ransom.
The Western Mindanao Command on Friday said it is still confirming reports that seven Indonesian sailors were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group.
The lone Filipina kidnap victim, Flor, arrived at the Davao City police office escorted by incoming peace panel chief Jesus Dureza as a symbol of “gesture of goodwill of the Abu Sayyaf Group.”
Flor was presented to incoming President-elect Rodrigo Duterte on Friday afternoon.
Dureza said that when he was in Oslo, he was informed that the Norwegian Prime Minister had a phone conversation with Duterte for the possible release of Kjartan Sekkingstad.
“When I was in Oslo, I was in touch with our local contact, Governor [Abdusakur] Tan. He made all the efforts,” Dureza said.
He said that when he came back from Oslo, he was informed that Flor was ready to be turned over to him.
Asked why Flor and not Sekkingstad was released, Dureza said that Tan told him that it was a goodwill gesture.
“They knew that President-elect Rody wanted badly the release of these hostages,” he added.
Duterte said kidnappings and beheadings must stop, and that time would come when he would confront the Abu Sayyaf.
“We were able to negotiate the release of Marites Flor, but apparently the Norwegian is still with the Abu Sayyaf,” Duterte said.
Flor, 38, a native of Valencia, Bukidnon, was teary-eyed when he was turned over to Duterte and said the Abu Sayyaf treated her like a dog.
“They told me that I was next to be beheaded after they cut the head of my fiance [Hall],” she said. “Before they killed Hall, they were like happy and excited to do it.”
Flor said that she was just awakened at dawn of Friday and told that she would be taken somewhere.
Later did she found out that she would be released to governor Tan of Sulu.
Flor was one of the four kidnap victims at Ocean View Resort, Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte in September 2015.
Her boyfriend Hall was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf on June 14, after his ransom was not paid.
The other Canadian, John Ridsdel, was beheaded in April.
Duterte said Friday the Abu Sayyaf’s reign of terror would be brought to an end.
Speaking before policemen at the Davao City, Duterte said kidnappings should no longer be toleraged.
“I don’t want to fight with anyone but there will be a time when I will have to confront the ASG. It is not yet forthcoming but the kidnappings have to stop.”
“My brother Muslims. I don’t want to fight, but stop. This has given us a bad image. There will be a reckoning of what happened,” Duterte said.
Duterte said that they are still negotiating the release of Sekkingstad.
He said he was still verifying reports that the Abu Sayyaf were unable to cross the rough seas with Sekkingstad.
At the same time, he warned his fellow Mindanaoans not to join the bandit group, saying he would unleash a war on them.
“Never be a member of that Abu Sayyaf because there will be a reckoning one of these days,” he said.
Flor shed tears as she recalled how her fiancé, Hall, was murdered by the Abu Sayyaf.
“I’m here now and even if my fiancé is no longer here, at least I was able to leave alive,” Flor said in a dzBB radio interview after she was presented by Duterte.
“I could not be strong during the last nine months,” she said in Filipino. “I got through the first eight months with my fiance, but they beheaded him, so that hurts very badly.”
She thanked the military, the police and the governor for her safe return.
Dureza and Flor took a plane from Jolo airport to Davao City, where they met Duterte.
The Palace said in a statement welcomed Flor’s release but said the Armed Forces continued to pursue the Abu Sayyaf until all captives are freed or rescued. – With Sandy Araneta, Florante S. Solmerin, AFP, PNA
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