KOTA KINABALU - The fate of two Malaysian captives in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf is now in question amid an ongoing military offensive against the militants at the mountainous jungles of Jolo in southern Philippines.
For now, marine policeman Konst Zakiah Aleip and fish farm manager Chai Sai Chuin are being held in a location away from the area of operations but that situation could change at any time, according to local anti-kidnapping activist Prof Octavio Dinampo.
He said that the Philippines military was focusing its hunt for the Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the Patikul municipality, while the two Malaysians were being held at Indanan, about 5km away.
"There have been skirmishes between the Abu Sayyaf and the military since an initial encounter on Friday," said Dinampo, a Mindanao State University academician.
Among those killed in the Friday firefight was the brother-in-law of Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron, as well as 10 gunmen and five soldiers.
Dinampo said the military saw Abu Sayyaf gunmen on the run with three other hostages in Patikul.
The three are ornithologists Ewold Horn of the Netherlands and Lorenzo Vinciguerra of Switzerland, who have been held captive since February 2012, and Japanese national Toshio Ito, who was kidnapped in 2010.
Dinampo said that the military operations appeared to be part of a move by the Philippines government to disarm various groups, including the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
It was part of the normalisation process following the signing of the Malaysia-brokered peace deal between Manila and the MILF.