Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants have abducted two employees of a lending firm. The incident brings the toll of kidnappings to 11 in this year alone. Military officials have admitted that they are having difficulty keeping the kidnappings in check.
The kidnappers have demanded the Philippines military's withdrawal from Jolo Island
Two employees of a small-time saving and loan association Lea Patris and Ammad Sali were kidnapped while collecting payments in the southern Philippines province of Basilan. A third employee accompanying them managed to escape and report to the police. Police officers and marines are now pursuing the kidnappers.
Wednesday’s incident occurred despite increased security across the southern Philippines after the kidnapping of three employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross or ICRC last month. The ICRC delegates, a Swiss and an Italian national along with a Filipina, had been abducted on January 15 while on a humanitarian mission on Jolo island.
ICRC hostages 'safe'
Members of the Al Qaeda-linked Muslim rebel group Abu Sayyaf are suspected to be behind the kidnappings. They have demanded a military withdrawal from Jolo island in return for the release of the ICRC workers. The hostages have been in captivity for the past three weeks, but have had regular telephonic contact with the ICRC officials and family members, reports ICRC media spokeperson Anna Nelson. "They sound like they are in good health, which of course is good news," says Nelson.
The rebels have said they are willing to negotiate with Philippines Vice President Noli De Castro and three top ambassadors. But Philippines officials have said they will not allow top diplomats and politicians to negotiate with the killers, as this would 'glorify and glamourise' the kidnappers by 'giving in to their demands'. A local crisis management committee has been appointed to deal with the kidnappings.
Asked if the ICRC was participating in the negotiations, Nelson says that she cannot give out details that could jeopardize the safety of the hostages. "Suffice it to say that we’re doing everything possible to bring them home safely and as soon as possible, and to obtain their unconditional release," she says.
Change in kidnapping patterns
This year alone, the total number of kidnapping victims in Philippines has gone up to 11, including three teachers, a midwife, and a nine-year-old boy on the Basilan island. On Monday, unidentified gunmen abducted a wealthy Chinese-Filipino businessman in Jolo.
Philippine’s military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres admitted that the military was having difficulty providing protection to all residents in Basilan and Jolo among increased abductions. He says that unlike the earlier pattern of kidnapping wealthy businessmen, the rebels have now begun abductions of teachers and aid workers. Even the nine-year-old boy abducted did not belong to a prominent family.
Basilan and Jolo are the strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group, known to have links with terror groups Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah. Ever since it lost many members in a military operation in 2006, the group has been trying to recover strength through kidnapping for ransom money.