Thursday, June 29, 2006

Kidnapped Muslim Poll Official Freed In Mindanao

A Muslim woman shows off a sticker with markings "tulungan and tabangan" which literally means "to help" during a recent joint RP-US medical mission in the southern Philippines. Troops and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels are pursuing Thursday, 29 June 2006, a band of bandits who freed a kidnapped Muslim poll official in Lanao del Norte province.

ILIGAN CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 29 Jun) Kidnappers have freed a Muslim poll official after private negotiators allegedly paid some 100,000 pesos ransom in exchange for his life in the southern Philippines, officials said Thursday.

Officials said gunmen released the 56-year old Disalungan Pulala, of the Commission on Election, after the ransom was paid late Wednesday in the remote village of Ulangu in the town of Balo'i in Lanao del Norte, one of five provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.

Pulala was kidnapped Monday while on his way to mosque in Iligan City. "He was freed alright, but not after negotiators allegedly paid some one hundred thousand pesos," Marine Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ben Dolorfino, deputy commander of the Southern Command, told the Zamboanga Journal.

The payment of ransom violated the government's strict no ransom policy, he said. Government soldiers, backed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces, mounted a joint operation Thursday to track down the kidnappers headed by bandit leader Elias Makil.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, said rebel forces were also working closely with the military through the ad-hoc joint action group to track down the kidnappers.

Another group of kidnappers are still holding Kurt Degracia, an 11-year old boy seized June 23 in Parang town in Maguindanao province. Gunmen kidnapped Degracia inside the Landasan Central Pilot Elementary School in front of his horrified teacher and classmates. His family owns a chain of hardware stores, authorities said.

"The MILF is really working very closely with the military to hunt down the kidnappers and we will not stop until they are arrested," Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, said in an interview.

Last month, gunmen seized Pala-o Diamla, a court sheriff in Marawi City in Lanao de Sur province on orders from a politician who lost in the May 2004 elections.

Diamla was returning home May 30 when kidnapped by a band of armed men. He was freed a week later after Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, backed by government soldiers, threatened to assault the kidnappers' hideout in the province.

The military said a defeated town vice mayoralty candidate, who has a pending electoral protest, allegedly masterminded the kidnapping to force the court to rule on his favor. Even judges in the provinces who were hearing election protests were also under threat.

The MILF, the country's largest Muslim separatist rebel group, forged an agreement in 2004 that paved the way for rebel forces to help government hunt down terrorists and criminal elements in areas where the MILF is actively operating.

MILF forces also rescued in May a nine-year old girl, Donna May Ramos, kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf bandits in the southern island of Basilan. Rebel forces, led by Bonie Salie, captured two men holding Ramos and rescued the girl May 13 in the hinterland village of Limbo Upas in Tipo-Tipo town.

The fate of the two men Jaid Awalal and Jaljani Isnilon was unknown, but the rebels handed the girl, daughter of Councilor Donnel Ramos who was kidnapped May 10 while playing with a friend in Lamitan town.

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