Monday, September 20, 2010

Zamboanga junk shop owner seized

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 20, 2010) – Unidentified gunmen barged into a junk shop and seized its Chinese-Filipino owner in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, the military said on Monday.

It said gunmen abducted Vinton So, 47, in the village of Santa Maria on Sunday afternoon, but his family only reported the incident later in the day. “We have forces helping the police locate the victim and his abductors,” said First Lieutenant Jinky Perez, a regional army spokesperson.

The victim’s family did not give any statement or whether the gunmen demanded any ransom, but officials said the abductors told So’s wife: “Don’t worry, this is purely business.”

Police officials also did not give any statement and avoided journalists who were trying to get information about the latest abduction. The motive of the abduction is unknown, but suspicion fell heavily on the Abu Sayyaf group which had kidnapped wealthy traders in Zamboanga in the past.

So was the third victim of kidnapping this year in Zamboanga City after Abu Sayyaf militants seized Vicente Barrios, a fish pond operator; and Charlie Reith, a land owner. Both had been freed in exchange for ransoms.

Dozens of traders and businessmen in Zamboanga have also received threats from kidnappers and urged authorities to put efforts in protecting them.

Several people were also kidnapped in Zamboanga City in recent years and were released after their families paid huge ransoms.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf kidnappers are also holding two Malaysian seaweed farmers and have demanded two million ringgits in exchange for their safe release.

The duo - Tsen Vui Chung, 42, and his cousin Lai Wing Chau, 33, - were seized in February from their farm in the island of Pulau Sebangkit in Sabah and were taken to Tawi-Tawi province in the southern Philippines.

Kidnappings-for-ransom remain the biggest threat to personal security, second to terrorism in the restive, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.

The Abu Sayyaf, which means “Bearer of the sword,” and other rebel groups including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Al-Khobar gang, have been tied to dozens of kidnappings over the past decade in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi – all in the Muslim autonomous region; and Zamboanga City and other areas in Western Mindanao.

Kidnappings-for-ransom has become a lucrative business for rebels and criminal syndicates in Mindanao, where many areas are underdeveloped and job opportunities are scarce. Sometimes gangs kidnapped civilians and hand them over to rebels in exchange for a cut in the ransom. Poverty has been blamed for many kidnappings in the South.

Military officials said the Abu Sayyaf uses its ransom collections to purchase weapons and fund future terror attacks in the country and were believed channeling funds to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya.

Among the highest-profile kidnappings carried out by the Abu Sayyaf were the 2000 raid cross-border raid in Malaysia where it took 21 mostly Western holidaymakers and ransomed them off for millions of dollars to private negotiators of foreign governments whose citizens had been kidnapped.

It also kidnapped Jeffrey Craig Schilling, an American citizen, while traveling in Sulu province also in 2000. It was followed the next year with the kidnapping of 20 people, including American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, and compatriot Guillermo Sobero, who was later beheaded.

Abu Sayyaf militants also kidnapped dozens of Filipinos, including teachers and students and a Catholic priest in a raid of a town in Basilan province.

And this was followed through the years by kidnapping Filipino traders, but in 2008 the militants seized a popular local television news anchor Ces Drilon and his two cameramen and a guide while on their way to clandestinely interview an Abu Sayyaf leader.

And in January 2009, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped three members of the International Red Cross - Andreas Notter, of Switzerland; Eugenio Vagni, of Italy and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba. And there was suspicion that ransoms were paid to the kidnappers either in Malaysia or Indonesia after authorities claimed that Mauiya, an Indian Jemaah Islamiya militant, was negotiating with the hostages’ representatives.

Sri Lankan peace worker, Omar Jaleel, of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, was also taken in Basilan the same year; and so were other Filipinos seized in the province and Zamboanga City.

In 1998, Italian priest Luciano Benedetti was kidnapped by rogue MILF rebels and released after eight weeks in captivity. In 2001, renegade MILF rebels also snatched Italian priest Giuseppe Pierantoni as the 44-year-old from Bologna said mass in the parish church of Dimataling town in Zamboanga del Sur and missionary Giancarlo Bossi, of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions, in Payao town in Zamboanga del Sur in 2007.

Last year, rogue MILF rebels also kidnapped Irish priest Michael Sinnott from his missionary house in Pagadian City and freed months later after ransom was paid.

A Japanese citizen, Toshio Ito, has become the latest victim of kidnapping in the southern Philippines. The 63-year old Hiroshima native was kidnapped by 10 armed men from his home in Pangutaran Island in the Sulu archipelago on July 16 and brought him to Basilan province, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City. (Mindanao Examiner)

No comments: