World Bulletin/News Desk
The Government of the Philippines' chief peace negotiator on Sunday asked for the assistance of all sectors - including recent peace deal signatories, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) - to give kidnap victims their best Easter gift ever - freedom from captivity.
In a statement, Miriam Coronel Ferrer said: “This year alone, 23 kidnapping cases were recorded in Basilan, Sulu, Zamboanga and Lanao provinces [in the Philippines' Muslim south] involving around 30 victims. Let us join hands in redeeming them from a most terrible fate of being held hostage.”
Ferrer confirmed that several MILF members were involved in a recent shootout with authorities during an army raid on a camp belonging to a rebel group held responsible for a spate of kidnappings in the region.
Those with sympathies for the Abu Sayyaf - whose name means "Bearer of the Sword" in Arabic - should be expelled from the MILF's ranks, she said.
A peace deal was signed between the government and MILF this year to end a decades-old rebellion that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and aims to create an autonomous Muslim area in the south. Under the agreement, the MILF agreed to end armed rebellion, but other rebel factions - including Abu Sayyaf - continue to fight on.
According to Ferrer, in the last three years there were nearly 100 cases of abductions of children as young as one-year-old, students, businessmen, foreigners, journalists, senior citizens, barangay officials, and teachers.
"Many of these kidnap victims are still in captivity while some have been killed," she said.
On April 11, military operations were undertaken in the villages of Silangkum and Baguindan in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan against the Abu Sayyaf Group, tagged by Philippine authorities as behind the recent abduction of a 21-year old female from Zamboanga City.
According to earlier military reports, at least nine members of the group were killed during the firefight, one of them - along with three men injured - affiliated with the MILF.
Coronel-Ferrer, citing reports from the government’s ceasefire mechanisms, said that the MILF members were connected through family to Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama - one of the most wanted men in the Philippines who has been charged with several cases of murder and kidnappings.
She said that the MILF leadership should ask those involved with the Abu Sayyaf to choose between war and peace.
“They should expel from their ranks those who reject peace and are directly or indirectly abetting the hostage-taking and preventing development to set in,” she said. “The peace process should not be used to shield criminals from their accountability for their crimes against innocent civilians.”
A meeting of the various bodies adjudicating the ceasefire is scheduled to be held after the holidays, the statement said.
“We expect both parties to renew their commitment and to come up with concrete operational guidelines that would allow them to effectively work together in securing the people’s safety and well-being in Basilan and elsewhere in Mindanao,” Coronel-Ferrer said.
An engineer abducted with his wife February 16 by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants was freed in Jolo island - an Abu Sayyaf stronghold - on Saturday night.
The man - whose wife was freed March 21 - said he was made to walk for two hours by his captors in a mountainous area before being left in a local village where some civilians took him to the nearby army headquarters.
It was not immediately known if the victim suffered injuries or if a ransom was paid for his release.
Last Mod: 20 Nisan 2014, 14:44