Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Muslim Election Officer Kidnapped In Restive Mindanao

MARAWI CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 27 Jun) Unidentified gunmen snatched a Muslim election officer while on his way to pray at a mosque in Iligan City in Lanao del Norte province in the restive island of Mindanao in southern Philippines, officials said Tuesday.

Officials said Disalungan Pulala, 56, was seized before sunrise by 5 gunmen in the village of Mahayahay on Monday. Pulala was dragged into a waiting van with markings "Fox Boy" on its side, but the vehicle had no licensed plates, said Captain Jose Ritche Pabilonia, a spokesman for the military's Southern Command.

"We still don't know the motive of the abduction, but the victim is an officer of the Commission on Election in Lanao de Sur province," Pabilonia said, adding, security forces were dispatched to track down the hostage.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, said rebel forces were also working closely with the military authorities through the ad-hoc joint action group to track down and recover Pulala and Kurt Degracia, an 11-year old boy also kidnapped last week in Parang town in Maguindanao province.

Gunmen kidnapped Degracia Friday 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.

"We are coordinating and working closely with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to track down the kidnappers and the two hostages," Eid Kabalu, the group's spokesman, told the Zamboanga Journal.

No group or individual claimed responsibility for the latest abduction, but previous kidnappings in the two provinces were politically motivated.

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 Philippine island ofBasilan. 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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