$380,000 ransom for Taiwanese woman's release?

KOTA KINABALU - A ransom of US$300,000 (S$380,000) is believed to have been paid to secure the release of Taiwanese hostage Evelyn Chang An-wei held by Abu Sayaff gunmen in the notorious southern Philippines island of Jolo.

Though officials in Philippines and Taiwan have maintained that the 58-year-old An-wei, who was snatched by Filipino gunmen from Pom Pom island in Semporna on Nov 15, was rescued, the ransom amount was widely speculated in the Taiwanese media.

An-wei's elder brother Richard Chang Ta Kong did not dispute the media reports when he said that his sister was not abused during her captivity and that the kidnappers were only after money.

Ta Kong, who was communicating with the kidnappers during her 36-days of captivity, did not speak directly about the alleged ransom payment made by the family to the kidnapper to secure her release.

An Wei, whose 57-year-old husband Lim Min-hu was gunned down when abductors attempted to grab him during the kidnapping at the resort, was left alone outside a forest area near Jolo's Talipoa village when a Philippines joint task force found her at 4pm on Friday following a "tip off''.

Philippines officials familiar with the kidnap for ransom operations explained that the Abu Sayaff groups usually released their captives once the agreed amount was sent in through intermediaries.

Usually, they explained, that the ransom amount itself was only part of the cost as they had to pay for "operational expenses'' for the intermediaries while also watching out for other groups that might want to snatch high-prized captives or even intermediaries carrying the money.

The groups are still holding at least a dozen captives including two European bird watchers who were kidnapped last year in Tawi-Tawi Province.

Ta Kong had thanked the Philippine National Police's Anti-Kidnapping Group for helping him to communicate with the kidnappers and his sister during her captivity.

Ta Kung, who thankful for Malaysian and Philippine police authorities for their work in the rescue mission, said he was helped by a "good'' family friend Yu Ching, who was identified later as the nephew of Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou.

(Yu Ching, is a former green beret trained at the US Military Academy at West Point and had extensive experience in the field, including assisting in operations against Abu Sayyaf.)

An-wei, who was reported to be a close friend of Taiwanese president's wife, is now undergoing medical check up at a hospital in Taiwan and has said that she is relieved to the end her ordeal and thanked all those responsible for her release.

She had told Filipino officials that she was unaware that her husband was killed though she heard gunfire while the gunmen were dragging her out of the Pom Pom resort villa.