MANILA: The Philippine government will work with the largest rebel group, with which it signed a peace deal last month, to curb an alarming number of kidnappings in the south, officials and the rebels said Sunday.
Government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said Philippine security officials and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels would meet this week to renew an agreement that allows the insurgents to help Filipino troops capture kidnappers and other outlaws in or near their southern strongholds.
Despite the accord, which was enforced in 2005, and a government crackdown, kidnappings have spiked, with nearly 100 cases recorded in the last three years. Gunmen have carried out 23 kidnappings of about 30 victims so far this year in four southern provinces, Coronel-Ferrer said.
Coronel-Ferrer called on kidnappers Sunday to release their captives as an “Easter gift.”
“There have been too many abductions,” she said, citing the kidnappings of children, students, businessmen, journalists, teachers, village leaders, foreigners and the elderly. “Many of these kidnap victims are still in captivity, while some have been killed.”
The 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a comprehensive autonomy deal with the Moro rebel group last month to end years of fighting in the south. But at least four other smaller armed groups, including the brutal Abu Sayyaf, continue to threaten attacks and carry out kidnappings for ransom.
Abu Sayyaf extremists freed a government engineer late Saturday after more than two months of jungle captivity in southern Sulu province, the military said.
Bonifacio Salinas and his wife, who both work for the government’s water supply agency in Jolo town in Sulu, were abducted by Abu Sayyaf gunmen on Feb. 16. His wife was freed last month, marines spokesman Capt. Ryan Lacuesta said, adding that it was not immediately clear whether ransom was paid in exchange for their freedom.
Two weeks ago, army troops launched an attack against Abu Sayyaf gunmen who were blamed for kidnapping a 21-year-old woman and extorting money from a construction firm building a key road in southern Basilan province, sparking clashes that killed at least nine militants.
Among the dead, however, was a MILF rebel who was a relative of an Abu Sayyaf commander responsible for kidnappings, the military said.
Coronel-Ferrer urged the MILF to purge its guerrilla force of members, who connive with violent armed groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.
“As an organization that signed the peace agreement, the MILF must not tolerate the criminal acts of any of their individual members,” she said.