The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said it sent emissaries on Monday to negotiate the release of foreign and Filipino hostages being held by al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf gunmen on southern Jolo island.
MNLF commander Khabir Malik said his group sent about 10 commanders to the jungle hideouts of the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo in Sulu province to convince the extremist group’s leaders to release all their captives. Malik waited with hundreds of armed rebels in Patikul town for word from the emissaries, who he said were given three days to negotiate.
He refused to say what the MNLF would do if the Abu Sayyaf militants do not free the captives, who police say include a Jordanian journalist and two European bird watchers.
“We’re resorting to peaceful discussions and God’s wisdom to ask them to turn over their hostages to us,” Malik told The Associated Press by cell phone from Patikul. “If they won’t agree, we’ll leave to God whatever will happen.”
Malik said his group took the step after its commanders decided in a recent meeting to help the government, military and police clean up the image of Sulu, a poor, predominantly Muslim region that is a stronghold of the Moro insurgents.
The MNLF has denied any links with the Abu Sayyaf, but the military and police have long suspected some rebels provide refuge and other support to the extremists. Some fighters from the two groups are related by blood, security officials say.
Malik said the MNLF move was not aimed at bolstering the candidacy of its chairman, Nur Misuari, who is running for governor of a five-province Muslim autonomous region in the south in elections on May 13. The rebels, he said, would not pay the ransom demanded by the Abu Sayyaf for the captives’ freedom. AP