Philippines sends more troops to hunt down kidnappers

KOTA KINABALU: Manila has sent additional battalions to hunt down gunmen who are holding four Malaysian sailors in the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Jolo.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, who met his Philip­pines counterpart Jose Rene D. Almendras in Manila on Thurs­day, said that Manila was looking at the kidnappings seriously as it also involved other nationals including Indonesian sailors.

"They have confirmed with me that the Malaysians are in Jolo and are constantly on the move. They have sent in a couple of battalions and various (Philippines) security agencies were in discussions to carry out the rescue operations," he said when contacted.

However, Anifah said that the group of kidnappers were constantly on the move and intelligence agencies could not ascertain whether the 14 Indonesians sailors who were kidnapped separately were being kept in the same group.

"I have sought Manila's assurance that the safety of the four Malaysians should be foremost in any rescue operation it plans to embark on," said Anifah whose one-day trip to Manila to get an update on the situation.

The visit follows Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's meeting with the families of the abducted hostages - Wong Teck Kang, 31, Wong Hung Sing, 34, Wong Teck Chii, 29, and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21.

Besides the hostage issue, Anifah also spoke on the issue of joint patrols along the Sabah-Tawi Tawi sea borders, saying that Manila was suggesting that there should be a single entry and exit point between the two areas.

"They are suggesting for them to set up an exit and entry point while Malaysia also set up a similar entry and exit point on our side of the border.

"Any movement outside this areas would be considered illegal," Anifah said, adding that the matter would be followed up with their respective governments.

Almendras also raised concerns over the barter trade ban imposed by Sabah, Anifah said, adding that he had explained that it was done for security reasons following the kidnappings.

"He fully understood the reasoning for the ban although there are some issues raised that I need to clarify with the state government," Anifah said.

Abu Sayyaf linked gunmen are believed to be responsible for abducting 18 sailors - 14 Indonesians and four Malaysians - in three separate raids along the Sabah-Tawi Tawi sea borders between March 26 and April 8.