PETALING JAYA • One of the Malaysian sailors being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines has sent out a desperate plea for help as he and his fellow captives are starving and being beaten up.
"We can't bear it anymore. We are in pain. All of us are sick. We have cuts on our bodies. We are weak. No food to eat. What's more, we are beaten. There are people who want to shoot us. Please help us."
Those were the words of Mohd Ridzuan Ismail, one of the five Malaysians abducted in the waters off Lahad Datu in eastern Sabah on July 18.
On Wednesday, spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf Abu Rami called The Star from Jolo Island, in the southern Philippines, and passed the phone to Mr Mohd Ridzuan, 32, for him to send a message to the Malaysian government.
"I'm a hostage from Malaysia. My name is Mohd Ridzuan Ismail. And I'm asking for help from the government and my boss to rescue us as soon as possible," he said in Malay in an eight-minute conversation.
"We're suffering in Jolo Island. We appeal to the Malaysian government and our boss to negotiate for our release as we want to return home as soon as possible," he said.
Mr Mohd Ridzuan, from Pahang, was kidnapped with four other Sabahan sailors - Tayudin Anjut, 45, Abd Rahim Summas, 62, Mohd Zumadil Rahim, 23, and Fandy Bakran, 26.
Mr Mohd Ridzuan said that they were being held in a jungle. He added that they were fed only meagre portions of rice occasionally, and that their drinking water came from the drain. A day before his plea, Rami said in a telephone interview that the captors were asking for 100 million pesos (S$2.8 million) for the release of the Malaysians.
The spokesman, who identified his group as Al Harakatul Al Islamiyyah, also claimed that there was no military presence where the hostages were being kept, despite reports of an all-out war against the Abu Sayyaf by the Philippine military.
"Why don't they want to counter us?" he challenged.
Philippine ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya said in a statement yesterday that the Philippine authorities were sharing intelligence with their Malaysian counterparts in the effort to rescue the hostages.
Mr Eduardo said that nine police and military battalions, comprising some 9,000 personnel, have been deployed to conduct operations against Abu Sayyaf hideouts in Jolo.
The operations, he said, had led to a significant number of boats being confiscated. "The Philippine navy has also put up a blockade," he added.
Mr Eduardo also indicated that the telephone call by the hostage was arranged to pressure the Philippine authorities to relent on the ongoing operations.
He dismissed claims by the Abu Sayyaf spokesman that there was no military presence where the hostages were being kept.
"It is an attempt at misdirection. The number of police and military men currently in the island province of Sulu in pursuit of this criminal lawless group is at its highest in decades," he said.
Mr Eduardo said that the Philippine armed forces chief of staff, General Ricardo Visaya, had made it clear that there would be no let-up in the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf.
"The troops will remain in the area until the objective is accomplished," he said.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK