Militant kidnappers' demands rejected

The four hostages, (from left) Ms Marites Flor, Mr Robert Hall, Mr John Ridsdel and Mr Kjartan Sekkingstad, appeared in a video on Tuesday. They were kidnapped after gunmen raided a luxury marina near Davao on Sept 21.
The four hostages, (from left) Ms Marites Flor, Mr Robert Hall, Mr John Ridsdel and Mr Kjartan Sekkingstad, appeared in a video on Tuesday. They were kidnapped after gunmen raided a luxury marina near Davao on Sept 21.PHOTO: REUTERS

Philippine army won't halt operations against them or negotiate for release of four hostages

MANILA • The Philippine army yesterday rejected demands by Islamist militants to start negotiations for the release of three abducted foreigners and a Filipino woman and halt an offensive on a remote southern island.

The militants raided a luxury marina on Samal island near the southern city of Davao on Sept 21, abducting the Norwegian owner of the resort, two Canadian tourists and one of their girlfriends.

The four appeared in a video on Tuesday appealing to the Philippine authorities to stop military operations on the tiny island of Jolo, to the west of Samal, and to Canada to help negotiate for their freedom.

There has been speculation the four had been taken hundreds of kilometres west to Jolo, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent Islamist militant group known for bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings in the southern Philippines.

"There is no negotiation that can be made with any of those who are perpetrating this crime," a military spokesman, Colonel Restituto Padilla, told a press briefing at the main army base in Manila.

"We cannot... discuss operational details, but we can assure you the safety of the hostages is always foremost in our minds."

The army commander on Jolo, General Alan Arrojado, said the military would not stop operations against the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf because there was no proof the hostages were in that area.

"It may be a mock-up scenario, it could be taken elsewhere and made it appear to be on Jolo to stop our operations," he said about the video appeal of the hostages.

"There will be no let-up in our operations," he stressed.

The Canadians abducted are Mr John Ridsdel, 68, and Mr Robert Hall, 50, and the Norwegian resort owner is Mr Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56. Mr Hall's girlfriend, Ms Marites Flor, was also abducted. She did not speak in the video.

Asked about the video, a Canadian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government was "pursuing all appropriate channels" to seek further information.

In the video, the hostages were sitting on the ground in a jungle, surrounded by at least eight men holding high-powered machine guns.

The militants' leader spoke fluent English, demanding that artillery attacks be halted and insisting on negotiations for the release of the hostages. He did not identify what group they belonged to or their location.

In all other Abu Sayyaf kidnappings of foreigners, the group has demanded and often got large sums of money for the release of its captives.

"The positive thing that we derive from this video is that the kidnap victims are in good health, (or) seem to be, and that is, as far as we are concerned, part of the good news that we got out of it," Col Padilla said.

The Abu Sayyaf is holding three other foreigners, a Korean and two Malaysians, military officials have said.

An Abu Sayyaf leader appeared online last year pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group. The Philippine authorities and security analysts say the group has little religious ideology and is primarily concerned with getting money through kidnappings.

Kidnappings are not uncommon in the Philippines.

Last week, an Italian missionary operating a pizza shop in the country was also abducted. A local official kidnapped six months ago was released on Monday night.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'Militant kidnappers' demands rejected'. Print Edition | Subscribe