Photo shows Malaysian cousins being held captive in Philippines

PETALING JAYA - A photograph of two Malaysian cousins kidnapped by Filipino gunmen in Lahad Datu in November has surfaced, raising hopes that the two hostages are still alive.

A photograph of Chong Wei Fei, a 33-year-old plantation manager, and Chong Wei Jie, a 25-year-old assistant manager, was delivered by a contact to The Star Online via email on Thursday.

In the photograph, the two Chongs are seeing holding up a sign stating "March 7, 2013" while the kidnappers have their guns trained on them.

"The two hostages are asking why nobody has come to help release them. They are suffering from diabetis and hypertension," said a source in southern Philippines.

Sources negotiating for the release of the two cousins confirmed that the photograph is that of the two hostages.

According to the source, the hostages have been regularly moved from one hideout to another in Jolo island, southern Philippines since their abduction from a oil palm plantation, off Lahad Datu in the east coast of Sabah, more than eight months ago.

In a daring well-planned kidnap mission on Nov 13 last year, five men in military fatigues and armed with two M-16 rifles held up Wei Fei and Wei Jie while they were with their bosses and workers inspecting their bird's nest farmhouse at their oil palm plantation near Kampung Manakayan.

All were asked to hand over their mobile phones and valuables and ordered to leave the area while the gunmen marched the Chongs and two others, including a worker, for about 2km to the sea shore where a 10m boat waited.

The gunmen decided to take Wei Fei and Wei Jie with them and before speeding off to the Celebes sea, reportedly told the two others "ada wang no problem" (if you have money, there should not be any problem), for the release of the victims.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib recently said that police knew both abductees were alive and wanted to re-establish contact that was disrupted in the wake of the Sulu armed group intrusion into Kampung Tanduo in Felda Sabah 17 in February.

Saying that it was vital to re-establish communications with the abductors, he said they were waiting for them to make some kind of a demand soon.

It is believed that the gunmen had agreed to a certain amount as ransom prior to the Sulu incursion but negotiations were abandoned when Malaysian troops launched the massive Ops Daulat to flush out the Sulu armed group from Sabah soil.

Although police roughly knew the location were the group operated from, they faced difficulty in moving forward as they kidnap victims were in Philippines territory.

Previously, kidnap victims in the hands Filipino gunmen were released with the engagement of professional negotiators who had contacts with the armed group linked to Abu Sayyaf militants.

A couple of million ringgit was spent on ransom and months negotiations in securing the release of two seaweed farmers kidnapped from Pulau Sebangkat off Semporna in 2010.

Similarly, when the Abu Sayyaf group kidnapped 23 people, including foreigners and Malaysians, from the diving resort of Sipadan in 2000, millions were paid for their release.