Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Philippine authorities search for 4 kidnapped Malaysians, Filipinos in troubled South

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 10, 2010) – Philippine authorities on Wednesday were verifying reports that two Malaysians abducted from a seaweed farm in Sabah had been taken either to Tawi-Tawi or Sulu provinces, officials said.

Gunmen also kidnapped two Filipino construction workers of a US-funded road project in Sulu on Monday.

Officials said security forces have been alerted about the reports and that soldiers were told to stay on alert. “We are still verifying that reports. We have alerted our troops in the southern Philippines,” said First Lieutenant Steffani Cacho, a regional military spokeswoman.

Malaysian authorities said that Chen Yui Chung, 48, and Lai Wong Chung, 46, were seized by five masked gunmen on Monday from the island of Sebangkat, off the town of Semporma, and were believed spirited to Tawi-Tawi or Sulu province, where Abu Sayyaf militants are actively operating.

The Abu Sayyaf previously kidnapped 21 mostly European and Asian holiday-makers in Sabah and brought them to Sulu where they had been ransomed off to Libyan negotiators. The hostages include three Germans, two French, two South Africans, and two Finns, one Lebanese, nine Malaysians and a Filipino working at the Sipadan Island Resort.

The latest victims were said to be a manager and his supervisor from a seaweed farm.

The abductions came days after the United States warned their citizens from traveling to Sabah because of threats of kidnappings.

Sulu Governor Sakur Tan has ordered police and military to intensify their search for the two Filipino victims and to verify the reported abduction of the two Malaysians.

“Police and military are already working on these reports,” he said.

Gunmen flagged down a dump truck and seized the two local workers in the town of Maimbung, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

They also torched the truck before escaping with their hostages; one of them was identified as Raja Haluid, according to the military spokeswoman. “There is an operation going on. We are searching for the victims,” Cacho said.

Brigadier General Rustico Guerrero, commander of military forces in Sulu, said troops were tracking down the kidnappers of the construction workers. He said they also alerted soldiers in the province about the reported kidnapping of two Malaysians in Sabah.

“We are trying to verify whether the kidnapped Malaysians were brought to Tawi-Tawi or Sulu, so far there have been no confirmation yet that the hostages are in Sulu,” he said.

He said the victims were working on a road project of the US military in Maimbung town. The project, Guerrero said, is part of Washington's humanitarian efforts in Sulu under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines.

No group claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, although suspicion fell heavily to Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied to Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya. (Mindanao Examiner)

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