NORTH COTABATO (Mindanao Examiner / 31 May) – Unidentified gunmen seized four Caucasians Thursday in the restive region of the southern Philippines, officials said.
Officials said troops and policemen have mounted a search for the foreigners – two males and two females – who were abducted near Pikit town in the troubled North Cotabato province.
The four were heading to North Cotabato from Davao City onboard a van owned by Filipino businesswoman, Roselyn Timbal. It was unknown if she was with the foreigners or not and whether the driver was also abducted.
“We are tracking down the foreigners and their abductors. We still do not know who are behind the abductions and their motives,” Major General Raymundo Ferrer, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, told the independent regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.
Ferrer said the victims were herded to motorcycles that followed the van near the town. “Some people witnessed what transpired,” he said without further elaborating.
Other reports said the hostages were spotted in the hinterland villages of Balongis, Tinutulan and Balatikan, all in Pikit town.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest Muslim rebel group negotiating peace with Manila, also offered to help track down the kidnappers, the general said.
“The MILF has offered to help and we are closely coordinating with the CCCH and the ADJAG,” Ferrer said. Ferrer was referring to the MILF and the government’s Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities and the Ad hoc Joint Action Groups.
The MILF has in the past helped the government rescue kidnapped foreigners and Filipinos in Mindanao.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and our forces are awaiting orders from the MILF about this problem and how we should help the authorities recover the foreigners safely,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, said in a separate interview.
Kabalu, quoting MILF intelligence reports, said the four foreigners were flagged down in Pikit town by the gunmen.
The abductions coincided with the start of the ten-day joint amphibious war games between the Philippines and the United States.
And terror warnings by Australia and the United States about an impending attacks and kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya and other rebel groups operating in the southern Philippines. (With reports from Mark Navales and Juan Magtanggol)