KOTA KINABALU - Abu Sayyaf gunmen did not torture or abuse Chinese national Gao Huayun and Filipina resort worker Marcy Dayawan @ Mimi during their 58 days of captivity in the jungles of Jolo.
However, Mimi, 40, was constantly threatened with being beheaded if Gao's family did not pay the ransom for their freedom within 20 days of their calls.
It is learned that the women, who were handed over to an Abu Sayyaf group for a fee by a Tawi Tawi-based kidnap-for-ransom group, were constantly guarded by at least 40 gunmen after they were taken straight to Jolo.
They were not harmed and were given daily meals of rice and fish but only got a serving of vegetables once during their captivity.
After weeks of negotiations, mediators secured the release of 29-year-old Gao and Mimi on Friday at about 11.30am. They were then brought from Jolo to Sandakan at 4.30pm before being flown to Kota Kinabalu where they were debriefed.
The two left for Kuala Lumpur early yesterday; while Gao flew immediately back to Shanghai, police were looking into travel documentation for Mimi before sending her back to the Philippines.
Both the women, who often cried during captivity, had never thought they would be released one day and were thankful for their freedom.
It was learned that there was a third woman with them but they were unsure whether she was a hostage or part of the group.
The heavily armed Abu Sayyaf men, ranging from teenagers to men in their 40s, kept a close watch on the hostages in the forested area within a village in Jolo.
On April 2, Gao and Mimi were grabbed by seven armed men in a small pumpboat from Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna before they were transferred to a high-powered boat and taken straight to Jolo.
They were taken to a jungle area but three days later when the Philippines army helicopters were heard hovering over the area they moved deeper inland, where they remained until their rescue, it was learned.
While Gao was reunited with her family in China yesterday, Mimi's fate remains unknown as her family, including her parents, have not returned to their home at Kampung Perigi in Semporna town.
Neighbours said they had not seen her family members who had been initially detained as police pursued the possibility of a link between them and the kidnappers.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib said yesterday that police had released the family members after questioning.
He added, however, they were still investigating whether Mimi had any links to the kidnapping. Both state police and Bukit Aman have recorded statements from Gao and Mimi.
"If we are sure that Mimi was not involved, she will be sent back to her family in the Philippines," he said when contacted.
With Gao and Mimi's release, police have been able to get a better picture of the groups involved in the kidnapping and steps are underway to secure the release of another Chinese national, Yong Zai Lin, 34, who was grabbed by crossborder gunmen from the Wonder Terrace Fish Farm in Lahad Datu on May 9. He was the manager of the fish farm owned by a Hong Kong businessman.
Sources said that although they believed the same gang kidnapped Yong and the women, it was another Abu Sayyaf group who was holding the manager.
Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman thanked all parties, including Malaysian security forces and their counterparts in the Philippines for helping secure the release of the hostages.
"This was a complex operation that required coordinated intelligence work and cooperation at many levels. I also wish to remind our security forces to continuously be vigilant to ensure there are no more such untoward incidents," he added.