Thursday, June 04, 2009

Kidnapped Sri Lankan peace worker freed in southern Philippines

Freed Sri Lankan peace worker Umar Jaleel rests Thursday, June 4, 2009 at a military hospital in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines a day after he was freed by Abu Sayyaf militants in Basilan province. Jaleel, a member of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, was seized at their headquarters in Basilan province on February 13. Police said Jaleel was beaten up and fed only with root crops every three days. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 4, 2009) – A kidnapped Sri Lankan peace worker was freed by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines after four months in captivity, police said Thursday.

Police said Umar Jaleel, who works for the Nonviolent Peaceforce, was released late Wednesday in the village of Silangkum in Basilan’s Tipo-Tipo town.

“Umar Jaleel is frail. He is very week and could hardly walk. He suffered a lot from the hands of his captors – the Abu Sayyaf,” Senior Superintendent Salik Macapantar, the provincial police chief, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Jaleel told police that he was beaten up by the Abu Sayyaf and only fed him with root crops every three days. “Jaleel was beaten up because he could not pay ransom. He was tortured from time to time,” Macapantar said.

Jaleel was seized by the Abu Sayyaf on February 13 in their headquarters in Lamitan City also in Basilan. Jaleel's group was deployed in Basilan to monitor the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front rebels.

The Brussels-based Nonviolent Peaceforce said Jaleel was freed without ransom.

“Jaleel was released through negotiations between a spokesperson for the captors and NP, with the assistance of local contacts supported by the provincial administration,” Mel Duncan, executive director for NP, said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

“The release was accomplished nonviolently and without payment of ransom. We are grateful and relieved for the safe return of Mr. Umar Jaleel. We are thankful to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and its forces in Basilan, the Moro National Liberation Front, the crisis management committee of Basilan, the Provincial Governor of Basilan, the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for their cooperation during Jaleel's captivity,” Duncan said.

Macapantar said Hajji Rashid Iklaman, a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Bangsamoro Development Agency, negotiated with the kidnappers for the safe release of Jaleel.
“Hajji Iklaman contacted us and said that Umar Jaleel would be freed and we have coordinated with the military and the provincial government for his recovery,” he said.

The Nonviolent Peaceforce said it would continue working for peace in Basilan, several nautical miles south of Zambonga City.

“We are not discouraged by this traumatic event,” Duncan said. “This is even more reason to intensify our efforts in supporting local work that promotes peace and coexistence. NP supports the use of proven nonviolent strategies to resolve conflicts and prevent the unpredictable consequences of violence. While this has been an arduous ordeal, I urge everyone to not demonize anyone involved.”
Macapantar said the foreigner was brought to a military hospital in Zamboanga City.

“We are glad that Jaleel and his family will be reunited in Sri Lanka in the very near future,” Duncan said.
Atif Hameed, a native of Pakistan and country director for the NP Philippine project, worked on the ground using nonviolent strategies. “Atif and his staff did an excellent job monitoring the events and working without partners in supporting Jaleel,” Duncan said.

He said Jaleel, an experienced peace worker, is widely admired and respected in the area of Basilan, where he is working. He began working for NP in 2004 in Sri Lanka to resolve disputes among communities in the Trincomalee district of Sri Lanka.

Last October, he was asked to begin working in the Philippines to help improve Muslim-Christian relations and support local peace organizations and structures of peace to consolidate peace processes.

His efforts helped to strengthen the role of local civil society organizations and peace advocates in monitoring a fragile ceasefire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and various armed groups on the island of Basilan.

NP is a non-partisan, non-sectarian and non-political organization currently has 17 international civilian peacekeepers and 22 local staff serving in the Mindanao region.

NP focuses on civilian peacekeeping through an unarmed, trained civilian peacekeeping force that works in conflict zones worldwide. They work to enable dialogue among parties in conflict and provide proactive presence for civilians and communities at risk, and to contribute towards consolidating structures of peace at the grassroots level of society.

Its members include veterans of conflict zones and experienced peacekeepers. With its international headquarters in Brussels and administrative office in Minneapolis, NP has worked in the conflict areas of Sri Lanka as well as the Philippines and Guatemala. (Mindanao Examiner)

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