Muslim gunmen demand US$10 mil. for new captives

COTABATO, Philippines, AFP

Muslim gunmen on Tuesday demanded a US$10 million ransom for four mainland Chinese men and a Filipino they had abducted in the latest kidnapping to hit the southern Philippines.

The military has launched a massive pursuit operation to track down suspected renegade members of the largest Muslim rebel group who staged the kidnapping.

The leader of the 25-member gang, identifying himself as Abu Hamsa, told local DXMS radio here that he would only negotiate with a representative of the Libyan government for the freedom of his captives.

“We are now demanding 10 million dollars for the release of all five kidnap victims,” Hamsa said. “We will only negotiate with a representative from the Libyan embassy in Manila.”

Hamsa claimed to be a former guerrilla of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who resorted to kidnapping for ransom to feed his family and relatives after the government allegedly reneged on a promise of livelihood assistance when he surrendered years earlier.

The MILF is the country’s main Muslim insurgent group which has opened peace talks and signed a truce with Manila.

“The government broke its promise, now we are resorting to kidnapping so we would be noticed,” Hamsa said.

The latest kidnap victims were Zang Zong Yee, Wang Shung Li and Zho Zhing from mainland China and Filipino guide Edwin Lim.

The four were seized by Hamsa’s group on Sunday while delivering a five million-peso (US$94,339) ransom for a Chinese engineer the gunmen had snatched in North Cotabato province in June.

The kidnapped engineer, Zang Zong Quiang, was the executive director of the China Import Export Technologies Inc., a sub contractor for a major irrigation project in the area, provincial governor Emmanuel Pinol said.

Asked where he was keeping the hostages, Hamsa said: “We are just nearby.”

The latest abduction comes in the middle of another hostage crisis playing out elsewhere in the south. Another group, the Abu Sayyaf, has been holding 18 captives, including two Americans, for nearly three months on the southern island of Basilan, where 5,000 soldiers are involved in a massive rescue operation.