Indonesia to consider 'military option' if diplomacy fails to free hostages

The Indonesian military has received President Joko Widodo's green light to mount a rescue operation if diplomatic efforts fail to free the Indonesian hostages being held by Abu Sayyaf militants.
The Indonesian military has received President Joko Widodo's green light to mount a rescue operation if diplomatic efforts fail to free the Indonesian hostages being held by Abu Sayyaf militants. PHOTO: EPA

The Indonesian military (TNI) has received President Joko Widodo's green light to mount a rescue operation if diplomatic efforts fail to free the Indonesian hostages being held by Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines.

According to Tempo news, Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said he has the President's permission for the "military option". But he added that the government would still attempt to resolve the crisis through diplomatic channels, while standing firm in not paying any ransom to the hostage-takers.

His comments comes after the Philippines on Wednesday agreed to allow TNI troops to enter its territorial waters as part of efforts to rescue the seven Indonesian hostages.

Mr Ryamizard, who was speaking at the Defence Ministry on Friday (July 1), said that such an operation however, will only be conducted under extraordinary circumstances and troops from the two countries will have to undergo drills before proceeding with the rescue.

"We have to hold drills to avoid confusion," he said, "Or friendly fire incidents could happen," said Mr Ryamizard.

The TNI, he added, is ready to mobilise if necessary but it will not "interfere" for now because the Philippine armed forces has already deployed six to ten thousand troops in response to the latest incident. "If the hostages are lost and the Philippines asks for our cooperation, we'll do it," he said.

The seven Indonesian seamen were taken hostage in the Sulu Sea on June 20, allegedly by Abu Sayyaf militants, in the third such incident involving Indonesians in recent months.

A high-level meeting is set to take place on Friday night to discuss Indonesia's next course of action in the crisis, said Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

The crisis centre meeting follows the return of Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi from the Philippines, where she met with her new counterpart Perfecto Yasay following the inauguration of President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration on Thursday, reported The Jakarta Post.

TNI chief General Gatot Nurmantyo, National Intelligence Agency head Sutiyoso and National Police Chief General Badrodin Haiti are expected to join Mr Luhut, Ms Retno and Mr Ryamizard at the meeting at the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs in Jakarta.

The Abu Sayyaf, notorious for kidnapping people and demanding millions of dollars in ransom for their return, in April abducted a group of Malaysian sailors in the same waters, releasing them early this month.

The militants also abducted 10 Indonesian sailors on March 29, and another four on April 15. All were released last month.

The latest abduction has prompted Indonesia to extend a moratorium on coal shipments to the Philippines, saying the move will remain in place until Manila can improve security in its waters. Indonesia supplies 70 per cent of the Philippines' coal import needs.

Indonesia's Transportation Ministry has also issued a notice informing all harbour masters that they are "strictly prohibited from issuing permits to all Indonesian-flagged vessels bound for the Philippines, without exception".

tkchan@sph.com.sg