2 Indonesians kidnapped in waters off Sabah

KUALA LUMPUR • Two Indonesians were kidnapped from fishing vessels in waters off Sabah in two separate incidents on Saturday, according to Indonesia's Foreign Minister. It is the latest in a string of abductions in the region.

The Malaysian media reported early yesterday that the two boat captains were kidnapped around midday by armed men in speedboats. It was unclear if the armed men were criminals or belonged to militant groups operating in the area.

Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, based in southern Philippines, has carried out kidnappings in the region, beheading some hostages and extorting millions of dollars in ransoms.

"The incident happened on Saturday off Sandakan," said Malaysia's Eastern Sabah Security Command head Wan Abdul Bari Abdul Khalid. "A group of five armed men abducted two fishing boat captains in separate raids on the high seas."

The gunmen also stole the crew's cellphones and the GPS on the boats.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi sent messages to her counterparts in Malaysia and the Philippines to convey her concerns and to request their attention to the matter, she told Reuters yesterday via text message. She did not provide further details.

The Indonesian consulates in Kota Kinabalu and Tawau, Malaysia, are working with the Malaysian authorities, the owners of the vessels and other crew members to gather further information on the incident, said Mr Lalu Muhamad Iqbal, Indonesian citizen protection director at the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, in a written statement.

There are around 6,000 Indonesians working on Malaysian fishing vessels in that area, he said. "The Indonesian government has also recommended for Indonesian crew members in Sabah to not go out to sea until the safety situation is seen as conducive."

The region around Indonesia's borders with Malaysia and the Philippines, a major sea lane and fishing area, has seen a spate of kidnappings by gunmen and Islamist militants in recent months. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to discuss possible joint security operations with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday, in a bid to stop the kidnappings along the two countries' sea border.

Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of militants formed in the southern Philippines in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

Military sources said Abu Sayyaf is holding a Dutch hostage, five Malaysians, two Indonesians and four Filipinos in its jungle stronghold. It beheaded two Canadian hostages this year, after failing to collect a ransom. There was an unconfirmed report yesterday that a German national had just been abducted.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2016, with the headline '2 Indonesians kidnapped in waters off Sabah'. Print Edition | Subscribe