Philippine peace negotiator says Abu Sayyaf abducted 30 hostages this year

The Philippine government's top peace negotiator on Sunday asked the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to help negotiate the release of 30 hostages taken this year alone by the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group.

Ms Miriam Colonel-Ferrer, who led talks on a historic pact that ended a decades-old insurgency led by the MILF in Mindanao island, made this appeal a day after the Abu Sayyaf, an affiliate of the Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist organisations, released an employee of a utility firm in Sulu province in Mindanao after holding him for 59 days.

Ms Ferrer said the Abu Sayyaf has abducted 30 hostages in 23 cases recorded so far this year in Basilan, Sulu, Zamboanga and Lanao provinces, all in Mindanao.

"Let us join hands in redeeming them from a most terrible fate of being held hostage," she said.

Addressing the MILF, she said the group's leaders "must not tolerate the criminal acts of any of their individual members. They must do their part in arresting the impunity long enjoyed by these unscrupulous individuals".

"They should expel from their ranks those who reject peace and are directly or indirectly abetting the hostage-taking and preventing development to set in. The peace process should not be used to shield criminals from their accountability for their crimes against innocent civilians," she said.

On April 11, security officials engaged an Abu Sayyaf unit said to be extorting money from a construction firm building provincial roads in Basilan. At least 18 Abu Sayyaf fighters and two soldiers were killed in fierce clashes that lasted for 16 hours.

Military reports said among those killed were three members of the MILF related to Furuji Indama, a top Abu Sayyaf commander and one of the most wanted men in the Philippines.

On Sunday, Captain Ryan Lacuesta, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Brigade, reported that the Abu Sayyaf released Mr Bonifacio Salinas, an engineer of the Jolo Water District, on Saturday in Patikul town, Sulu.

Mr Salinas was abducted with his wife, Marie Claire, on Feb 19 this year. His wife was released on March 21. Captain Lacuesta said he had no information whether Mr Salinas' family paid ransom to secure his release.