MANILA • Abu Sayyaf rebels linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) freed three more Indonesian captives yesterday after a three-month ordeal, the Philippine government said, taking the number of hostages released to nine in the past two weeks.
The Abu Sayyaf handed over the three men on Jolo island to a major rebel group which then released them to the authorities, government peace negotiator Jesus Dureza said.
He told AFP that the handover had been smooth and that the three would get a medical check-up and a debriefing before being turned over to an Indonesian representative.
The three were part of a group of sailors abducted by the Abu Sayyaf in June, authorities said.
The terms of the release were not disclosed, but the Abu Sayyaf typically releases hostages after hefty ransom payments are paid.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi also confirmed that the three hostages - Mr Ferry Arifin, Mr Edi Suryono and Mr Muhamad Mabrur Dahri - had been freed and would be handed over to a team from the Indonesian embassy.
Yesterday's handover was the latest hostage release overseen by Nur Misuari, an elder Muslim rebel leader with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) group.
After a decades-long insurgency, the MNLF is currently engaged in peace talks with President Rodrigo Duterte.
Mr Duterte has made the destruction of the Abu Sayyaf the top security priority of the military, and has ruled out including it in a nationwide peace process because of its brutality and criminal activities.
"These recent breakthroughs were a convergence of efforts that President Duterte initiated, getting the cooperation of the MNLF," Mr Dureza said.
Last month, a Norwegian hostage, kidnapped in 2015, and three other Indonesian seamen were handed over by the Abu Sayyaf to Misuari, who then passed them on to the government. A few days later, another kidnapped Indonesian sailor was freed through the MNLF.
Military sources say the Abu Sayyaf are still holding a Dutch hostage, five Malaysians, two Indonesians and four Filipinos in their jungle stronghold.
The militants beheaded two Canadian hostages earlier this year after failing to collect a ransom.
The Abu Sayyaf, which means "bearer of the sword", is a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
The group, with an entrenched network in the impoverished communities of the deep south, has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.
While its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to ISIS, analysts say it is mainly focused on a lucrative kidnapping business rather than religious ideology.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE