Filipinos fear new wave of kidnappings

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The abduction of three new hostages from a Malaysian diving resort set off fears in the Philippines yesterday of a new wave of kidnappings inspired by huge recent ransom payments to Filipino Muslim rebels. Negotiators say about dlrs 15 million has been paid to the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas for the release of 20 tourists and resort workers kidnapped in April from Malaysia's Sipadan diving resort. One Filipino resort worker remains in captivity from that group. On Sunday night, four men armed with M-16 rifles burst into a resort on Malaysia's Pandanan island, near Sipadan, and fled with three Malaysian hostages in a speedboat toward the southern Philippines, officials said. The Philippine military stepped up patrols of southern coastlines to try to intercept the boat. "Paying ransom ultimately comes back to bite you," said presidential Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora. "This is a policy that is really self-defeating. The more you pay ransom, the more you encourage kidnapping." Several Philippine senato

The abduction of three new hostages from a Malaysian diving resort set off fears in the Philippines yesterday of a new wave of kidnappings inspired by huge recent ransom payments to Filipino Muslim rebels. Negotiators say about dlrs 15 million has been paid to the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas for the release of 20 tourists and resort workers kidnapped in April from Malaysia's Sipadan diving resort. One Filipino resort worker remains in captivity from that group. On Sunday night, four men armed with M-16 rifles burst into a resort on Malaysia's Pandanan island, near Sipadan, and fled with three Malaysian hostages in a speedboat toward the southern Philippines, officials said. The Philippine military stepped up patrols of southern coastlines to try to intercept the boat. "Paying ransom ultimately comes back to bite you," said presidential Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora. "This is a policy that is really self-defeating. The more you pay ransom, the more you encourage kidnapping." Several Philippine senators have called for military action against the rebels. Earlier in the day, four Europeans - the last foreigners to be freed from the Sipadan group - left the Philippines for a celebration in Libya, which reportedly paid dlrs 1 million each for their release. They smiled and embraced negotiators as they boarded a luxurious Libyan Ilyushin plane, formerly used by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, for the flight to Tripoli. "It's a new start in life," said Risto Vahanen of Finland. On his immigration form, Vahanen said he wrote "kidnapping" as the purpose of his trip. "Bye-bye Philippines," said German Marc Wallert, whose parents were earlier released. "I'm happy to be going in the direction of my hometown." Also released on Saturday were Stephane Loisy of France and Seppo Franti of Finland. Two other European hostages - French television journalists seized when they visited the rebels' camp - are still being held by the Abu Sayyaf rebels on southern Jolo island. The guerrillas are also holding 12 Filipino Christian evangelists and the last remaining Sipadan hostage, Filipino diving instructor Roland Ulla. A separate rebel faction is holding American Jeffrey Schilling, a Muslim convert from Oakland, California, who was abducted Aug. 28 after he voluntarily visited their camp. The rebels say they are fighting for an independent Islamic state in the impoverished southern Philippines. Negotiations for the remaining hostages have been suspended because of fighting among the Abu Sayyaf factions over the division of the ransom money. On Sunday, rebel leader Ghalib "Robot" Andang warned negotiators to stay away from Jolo because he planned to retaliate against a faction that attacked vehicles in which he and two go-betweens were riding. The go-betweens, who were arranging the release of the Europeans, were not injured. But at least one bodyguard was killed and eight others were injured, negotiators said. Many civilians were also injured in the crossfire, they said. Schilling's mother, Carol, telephoned a radio station in the southern Philippines to appeal for her son's release. "Jeffrey is not your enemy, nor am I. Whatever you hope to achieve will not be realized by holding my son," she said in the call to the Radio Mindanao Network. In a second tape recording played Monday over the radio network, Schilling asked the U.S. State Department to set aside political differences with Libya and allow it to mediate on his behalf. "If it is politically impossible to accept Libya as the negotiator, the Abu Sayyaf is willing to accept the Saudi Arabian government as an alternate," he said. Libyan officials have said they are willing to help. "We haven't asked for any assistance from third parties," U.S. Embassy spokesman Tom Skipper said. "We're still supporting Philippine efforts to resolve the situation." Libya has played a leading role in the negotiations for the Sipadan hostages. But it has resisted paying for the French journalists, saying their company should provide the money. Libya insists the money is going for development projects, not into the pockets of the rebels. But the released hostages said they saw signs of money flooding into the rebel camp, including new clothes, gold jewelry and reports of new speedboats and motorcycles. The four released Europeans spent the day Sunday relaxing at a Philippine resort hotel as they waited for the delayed Libyan plane. The plane finally took off about 6.15 am yesterday. Asked for his final words before departing, Vahanen replied: "I hope you can solve the problems in the southern Philippines peacefully, not with the military."

Comments