Friday, January 27, 2006

Japan Fears For Safety Of Citizens In Mindanao

Philippine Army Col. Domingo Tutaan, chief of staff of the Southern Command in Zamboanga City, welcomes Thursday, Jan. 26, 2005 Yoshihisa Ishikawa and Kenichi Ichinose, both First Secretaries of the Japanese Embassy in Manila. (Zamboanga Journal)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 26 Jan) Japan on Thursday expresses concern about the safety of its citizens in the southern Philippines, where Filipino troops are battling members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

Two senior Japanese embassy officials Yoshihisa Ishikawa and Kenichi Ichinose arrived in Zamboanga City and met closed door with Filipino military commanders in Southern Command headquarters where they have been briefed on the progress of the government's anti-terror campaign in Mindanao.

"Basically, we briefed the Japanese officials about terrorism and the government's counter-terrorism campaign, criminalities and the progress of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, among others," said Col. Domingo Tutaan, the chief of staff of the Southern Command, the largest military installation outside Manila.

Ishikawa, First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy, later met with reporters and said he was satisfied with the security briefing, but he expressed concern about the safety of Japanese citizens and aid workers in Mindanao. But he was quick to say that Japan will continue its humanitarian projects in the southern Philippines.

Manila blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the spate of kidnappings and terrorism in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region.

"Generally, Japan is concerned, of course, with the safety of its citizens and aid workers in Mindanao, but this won't affect our humanitarian assistance to Mindanao,” he said.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped a Japanese man Senichi Takayama and shot dead his Filipino companion in 1997 in the southern Philippine resort town of Glan.

In 1998, suspected Abu Sayyaf members threatened to kidnapped Japanease aid workers in Zamboanga City. And in January 2003, unidentified gunmen barged into the house of a 48-year old Japanese trader Hazumitsu Hashiba in Lanuza town in Surigao del Sur province and kidnapped him.

Japan is one of the Philippines' biggest aid donors and has funded many humanitarian projects as far as Tawi-Tawi and Basilan islands, both strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf group in the southern Philippines.

Last week, Minister Eiichi Oshima, Japan's deputy ambassador to Manila, signed a grant worth more than P600, 000 to finance the construction of a potable water system in Masbate province under Tokyo's Official Development Assistance (ODA). The project, part of Japan's Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects (GGP), is expected to benefit some 600 people in the village of Ki-Buaya.

Japan in 1989 also launched in the Philippines the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects (GAGP) for the purpose of reducing poverty and helping various communities engaged in grassroots activities.

Since then more than 300 small-scale grassroots projects had been implemented in the country, including a social rehabilitation center built in 2003 in Basilan island worth US$90,740 as part of Tokyo's commitment to support the Philippine government’s efforts in promoting peace and development in Mindanao.

A group of Malaysian soldiers led by Lt. Col. Ariffin was also in Zamboanga City and held talks with Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Gabriel Habacon.

Local military spokesmen said Ariffin's group is part of the international cease-fire team monitoring the truce between the government and the MILF. Officials did not disclose details of the meeting, but other sources said Ariffin was happy about the progress of the peace talks between Manila and the MILF.

Peace talks are expected to resume in the coming weeks in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations.

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