Philippines Opens Door to Abu Sayyaf Hostage Talks

Zamboanga City, the Philippines, 28 Ramadan 1437/04July 2016 (MINA) – The newly-appointed peace adviser to President Rodrigo Duterte has said he is willing to open talks with a Daesh-affiliated militant group to discuss the release of a Norwegian hostage.

ABS CBN reported Sunday that Jesus Dureza had said he has told the Abu Sayyaf’s Muammar Askali, alias Abu Rami, that he is ready to talk with anyone from the Abu Sayyaf about the release of Kjartan Sekkingstad.

“I got word from someone in Zamboanga City this [Sunday] morning that one Abu Rami [previous reports have identified him as the spokesperson of the Abu Sayyaf] wanted to talk to me directly about the remaining Norwegian hostage,” Dureza was quoted as saying.

Sekkingstad was kidnapped from a high end resort in September along with Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel, and Filipina hostage, Marites Flor.

Hall and Ridsdel have since been beheaded after ransoms failed to be paid, and Flor freed.

“I told the person that I was ready and willing to talk with anyone for the release of the hostages and save lives provided that it would not be about a ransom. I gave a secure phone number for him to contact me. I am still waiting,” he said.

The Abu Sayyaf is demanding P300 million ($6 million) for Sekkingstad ‘s release.

The move comes after Askali called in to DXRZ Radio Mindanao Network and told the station Friday that the Abu Sayyaf had opened a line with the government for dialogue.

He warned, however, that the group would execute Sekkingstad if had not heard from the government by July 9 and added that the group wanted Dureza to negotiate, so he could relay grievances to Duterte.

The spokesman declined to divulge their “concessions” from the government, saying it would only talk to Dureza.

“If they will just disregard us, as soon as possible, we will no longer issue any ultimatum [and] we will execute him [Sekkingstad],” Askali said in a statement aired on DXRZ radio station.

Giving very bad image

Askali did not mention the fate of seven Indonesians who were kidnapped from a tugboat in the Sulu Sea on June 22.

Last month, Duterte said such abductions had to stop because they had given the Philippines “a very bad image”.

Indonesia has halted coal shipments to the Philippines, saying they would only continue if Manila can secure its waters.

Meanwhile, Army Chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano of Armed Forces of the Philippines told reporters in Manila on Sunday that he will try to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf within the year.

“There will be 24/7 operations against the Abu Sayyaf and then resources will be poured into the areas of the Abu Sayyaf,” Ano was quoted as saying by GMA News?.

He added that the Duterte made the defeat a priority of his administration.

Aside from the Norwegian, the Abu Sayyaf is also holding Dutchman Elwood Horn, the seven Indonesian sailors, and around five locals.

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf — armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles — has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.

It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release. (T/R07/R01)

Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)