The double-edged sword of Gaddafi's links with the Philippines

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The Independent Online

Some very odd questions are surfacing in the Middle East about Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's latest adventure in the Philippines.

Some very odd questions are surfacing in the Middle East about Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's latest adventure in the Philippines.

Last night, the 24 remaining hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf group for four months were awaiting the outcome of Libyan-mediated negotiations after their expected release at the weekend failed to take place. The rebels, on the island of Jolo, could be holding out for more ransom than the $24m (£16m) that would be paid via the "charity" run by Col Gaddafi's 26-year-old son, Seif.

But what exactly is the "Gaddafi International Association for Charitable Organisations" which is supposedly mediating for the release of the hostages in the Philippines.

Why does it have no address listed in the Libyan capital of Tripoli? And why has an organisation which can rustle up a jet, a medical team and negotiators so swiftly never been heard of before?

Why have so few people recalled that Col Gaddafi sent money and weapons to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines shortly after he staged his coup d'etat over King Idris in 1969? Col Gaddafi turned up to witness the subsequent autonomy agreement with Manila. And when a breakaway faction of Moro rejected the deal, they changed their name to Abu Sayyaf: the same Abu Sayyaf which now holds the hostages. It was also this same group which, in 1995, called for the lifting of UN sanctions against Libya.

Col Gaddafi has weaved many a tangled web in his time, but few as complex as this.

Nor one as strange in its nomenclature. Col Gaddafi's son is called Seif el-Islam, which means the "two-edged sword of Islam". And Abu Sayyaf - the name of the kidnap group - means "father of the sword-bearer". Just a coincidence, no doubt.

And then - for those who enjoyed the revelations last week that France was supportingCol Gaddafi to get its own hostages freed - there is the weird story of the good ship Silco.

The Silco was a rust-bucket off the North African coast with five Belgians and a Frenchwoman on board when, on 8 November 1987, it was commandeered by members of the ruthless PalestinianFatah Revolutionary Council, led by Abu Nidal. Suspicions remain that the ship was in fact seized by a Libyan gunboat.

But for two years, the world played along with the fiction that Abu Nidal's group, then based in Tripoli, was holding its prisoners in an unknown location. Then on 10 April 1990, one of the Belgians, Fernard Houtekins, and his French lover, Jacqueline Valente - along with a child born in captivity - turned up in Beirut, courtesy, so we were informed, of Col Gaddafi's "mediation".

Sound familiar? Abu Nidal's office in Beirut even invited Belgian diplomats to negotiate for the other hostages - I was present when they arrived to chat to the local Abu Nidal representative, who was assassinated near the same office a few weeks later. The Belgian diplomats thanked Col Gaddafi and President Francois Mitterrand thanked him for his "decisive role" in securing the release of the Belgian and his French lover.

In Beirut, the two were handed over to Philippe Rondot, a senior French intelligence agent. Mr Rondot had been involved in the negotiations with Libyan emissaries for the hostages' release. Where is he now, one wonders? France? Or the Philippines?

And where, finally, has the $24m offered by the Libyans for the Philippine hostages' come from? It's a lot of money for a charity. If it goes to Abu Sayyaf, will any of it be returned to the man who so generously supported their parent "liberation" organisation three decades ago: Col Muammar Gaddafi?

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