Thursday, December 10, 2009

Philippine gunmen seize dozens of civilians

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 10, 2009) – Philippine gunmen abducted Thursday dozens of civilians in the southern province of Agusan del Sur, an army spokesman said.

Police forces, backed by army soldiers, were sent to the town of Prosperidad to rescue at least 65 villagers, including two private foresters and a teacher, being held captive by gunmen, said Major Michelle Anayron, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division.

“We still don’t the motives of the abduction, but police and military forces were sent to the area to track down the gunmen,” Anayron told the independent newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

He said the gunmen seized the victims at around 6 a.m. in the village of San Martin for a still unknown.

But police said the gunmen, numbering 15, seized 75 people and freed 18 of the hostages, mostly school children, after a series of government negotiations.

“The abductors have freed 17 school children and an adult, and negotiations are still continuing for the safe release of the other hostages,” said Chief Superintendent Lino Calingasan, the regional police chief.

No group claimed responsibility for the mass abductions, but the army spokesman said initial reports have pointed to the Perez group, blamed for many criminalities in the town, as behind the attack.

Tribesmen also seized seven government forest rangers in October in Agusan del Norte province and demanded the government to return their ancestral lands and to cancel all forest agreements with commercial loggers in areas where there are presence of indigenous tribes.

The victims, all employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, were freed in the town of Sibagat in Agusan del Sur province after the government cancelled several forestry agreements with commercial logging firms.

It was unknown whether the latest abductions were connected to illegal logging activities.

Both provinces are a known lair of illegal loggers and a stronghold of New People’s Army rebels. Illegal logging activities in the provinces continue unabatedly and are threatening water shed areas.

Last year, some 500 leaders of indigenous tribes and representatives of nongovernmental organizations and the Catholic Church appealed to Manila to put an end to illegal logging and destructive mining in the province and other areas in the Caraga region considered as ancestral domain. (Mindanao Examiner)

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