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Archive for May 31st, 2007

4 abducted in North Cotabato freed

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By Joel Guinto, Jeoffrey Maitem, Edwin Fernandez
INQUIRER.net, Mindanao Bureau
Last updated 07:17pm (Mla time) 05/31/2007

COTABATO CITY — The biggest Muslim rebel group in Mindanao has announced the rescue of four people — one foreigner and three Filipinos — who were seized by unidentified armed group in a remote village in the province of North Cotabato earlier in the day.

The military reported initially that the four victims were all “Caucasians,” which Major General Ben Dolorfino, chairman of the government side of the Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), corrected later in the day.

Eid Kabalu, spokesman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said the suspects, believed to be members of a local kidnap-for-ransom gang, were cornered by MILF forces under Commander Moti in the interior of Barangay (village) Batolawan in Pikit town around 3 p.m.

“Because of our order to neutralize the suspects, they were forced to abandon the victims,” Kabalu said.

Dolorfino said “cattle rustlers”, led by a certain Datucan, were behind the abduction.

Dolorfino said the bandits tried to charge “board and lodging” from their victims, but eventually agreed to release them after MILF forces fired an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at them.

The four will stay at an MILF camp in Parang town, Maguindanao province overnight, Dolorfino said.

On Friday, the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Forces would turn over the group to the International Monitoring Team (IMT), who will later turn them over to government security forces, the official added.

Kabalu said it was good that the kidnappers entered an MILF territory because it became easier for their forces to launch the rescue operation.

“They erred in entering our area of responsibility,” Kabalu said.

Kabalu did not identify the victims but the owner of the van they rented out from Davao City said the male Caucasian was Thomas Wallraf, a German national.

Roselyn Timbal, owner of the Nissan van with plate number YDN 826, said Wallraf rented the van on Wednesday and told her he was going to Cotabato.

She said Wallraf was with two other persons, both Indian nationals.

But Colonel Pedro Soria, commander of the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, the main military unit who pursued the kidnappers, said Wallraf, whom he identified first as Thomas Wallrat, was with another Caucasian identified as Sharon Jackson. It was not clear what Jackson’s nationality was.

Dolorfino, who works with the government peace panel, said there was only one Caucasian and that was Wallraf.

He said the three others were Filipino, including Walraf’s wife, whom he did not identify.

Soria gave the names of the other victims as Consuela San Juan and a Diego Delfin.

Timbal said the Delfin in the report was Diego Narisma, who drove the van.

Police and military authorities said investigation was still being conducted to determine what Wallraf’s business was in going to Pikit.

But Timbal said Wallraf told them that he was going to meet somebody about treasure hunting.

“He was a treasure hunter,” she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

A military official also told the Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, that Wallraf went to Pikit to look for nickel babbitt, which reportedly fetches a high price in the international blackmarket.

Timbal has initially said that Wallraf and his companions left Davao City on Wednesday evening but said later that they went to Pikit on Thursday morning.

Authorities initially reported that the victims were all foreigners and that they were seized in Barangay Batolawan.

“The suspects tied up the victims before forcing them away,” Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), said.

Lieutenant Colonel Julieto Ando, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the armed men were aboard several motorcycles.

“Police and military personnel were dispatched to the area to look for the victims,” Ando said.

Mayor Sumulong Sultan said he was happy that the victims had been rescued.

The victims will be handed over to the government by the MILF peace panel today after spending the night in an MILF camp near this city.

He said it could have been a major headache for officials had the victims remained in the hands of the kidnappers.

But Kabalu said they became positive that the victims would be freed when they learned that the kidnappers were entering an MILF territory.

“The MILF chair [Murad Ebrahim] has ordered our troops on the ground to help track down the suspects,” Kabalu had told DXMS radio.

The MILF, which is talking peace with the government, has pledged to cooperate with the government in anti-terror and anti-crime operation.

Kabalu said the MILF wanted to prevent any situation from becoming complicated because it would put the peace process in jeopardy.

In past kidnapping incidents, the military had linked the MILF and launched operation against the rebels.

“Things like this one will destroy the peace process, we will not allow this to happen under our noses,” Kabalu said.

Aside from the MILF, other Moro armed groups blamed for incidents of kidnapping in Central Mindanao also included the Pentagon kidnap gang.

The Pentagon gang, composed of former Moro rebels, gained notoriety when it started abducting Italian missionaries in the early ’90s.

The group, collectively controlled by at least five leaders including Alonto Tahir, was also involved in the 2001 abduction of five Chinese engineers from a government irrigation project in Carmen, North Cotabato.

Four of the engineers were killed during a botched military operation, while the Pentagon continued its activities.

Originally posted at 1:24pm

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

ThuUTC2007-05-31T09:01:24+00:00UTC05bUTCThu, 31 May 2007 09:01:24 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am05

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