More than a year after they were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in waters off Sabah, two Indonesians have been released by the extremist group and are on their way home, said a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jakarta yesterday.
Fishermen La Utu Raali and La Hadi La Adi were captured by Abu Sayyaf militants on Nov 5, 2016, in the Sulu Sea, which is to the north-east of Borneo island and south-west of the Philippines.
The ministry said the men, who were taken from different boats, were freed by their captors at around 7.30pm local time on Friday, and will be allowed to return to Indonesia once they are cleared by the Filipino immigration.
"Representatives of the Consulate-General of the Republic of Indonesia in Davao, and the Embassy of Indonesia in Manila, are coordinating with (the) local authorities to process the return of the two Indonesian citizens," said the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
The Abu Sayyaf militants, like the Maute group that led the siege on Marawi city in southern Philippines last year, are based in the restive island of Mindanao, and have kidnapped dozens of tourists, fishermen and sailors from the Sulu Sea and the northern limit of the nearby Celebes Sea.
Three days after the two fishermen were taken, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi visited Sandakan port in Sabah, Malaysia, to meet their wives and hundreds of Indonesian fishermen based there. Ms Retno said the Indonesian government would spare no effort to seek the men's release.
The latest development comes several months after three Vietnamese sailors held for eight months by the Abu Sayyaf were rescued by soldiers in the southern Philippines. According to a report by Agence France-Presse, the Vietnamese sailors were found in the southernmost Philippine island group of Tawi-Tawi on Nov 10, along with the corpse of a Vietnamese seaman who had died from illness.
The Abu Sayyaf was originally a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. It has since splintered into factions, with some continuing in banditry and kidnappings. Abu Sayyaf kidnappers are known to be brutal. In 2016, the group beheaded two Canadian hostages.