Southern Philippine Group Frees Four Indonesian Hostages

Tia Asmara
2016.05.11
Jakarta
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160511_ID_4Release_1000.jpg Indonesian President Joko Widodo (center), flanked by Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, announces the release of four Indonesians who had been held hostage for nearly a month in the southern Philippines, May 11, 2016.
Courtesy of Presidential Press Office

Four sailors from Indonesia who were held hostage for almost a month by an armed group in the southern Philippines were freed Wednesday, Indonesian officials said.

The release of the four followed the May 1 freeing of 10 other Indonesian sailors who were taken captive by a different group based in the southern Philippines, the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf.

In both instances, Indonesian officials did not comment on whether a ransom had been paid to release the seamen.

The release of the four sailors came after negotiations by Indonesian and Philippine officials who met clandestinely and that involved help from Nur Misuari, the founder of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), an official at Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) told BenarNews.

“The group who held the four crew members hostages was different from the previous one, but they know each other. A ransom was requested but it was unclear how much,” BNPT staff analyst Wawan Purwanto said.

At a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced the news of the release of the four sailors.

“Gratitude to God that, finally, [the] four Indonesian citizens were released. All four are in good health,” Jokowi told reporters at the State Palace.

He praised the Philippine government for cooperating with Indonesia to secure the release of the four sailors. Philippine authorities had custody of the four and promised to repatriate them soon, the president said.

“I’m grateful that Indonesia’s initiative in organizing a trilateral meeting in Jakarta shows its result. This is one of the implementations from the spirit of the meeting,” Jokowi said, referring to a meeting on May 5 between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

They agreed then to establish three-way hotlines and coordinate maritime patrols in order to safeguard ships from hijackings in seas that separate the three countries. Four Malaysian sailors remain in Abu Sayyaf custody after being abducted last month from a ship sailing between the East Malaysia state of Sabah and the southern Philippines.

The four Indonesian sailors were kidnapped from the Indonesian tugboat Cristi when it was hijacked in waters along the Philippines-Malaysia maritime border on April 15. Six other crew members escaped and were rescued by Malaysian police.

Foreign minister mum on details of release

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who joined Jokowi at the press conference, declined to give details about the release.

“We only focus on their safety. According to the Indonesian team, they are in good health,” she said, adding that Indonesia was communicating with the Philippines about the sailors’ repatriation.

Retno also refused to name the group that detained them.

“It is not important anymore,” she said.

Hijacked vessel rescued

The release of the four sailors came within 48 hours of news that the Indonesian navy had rescued 20 crew members and a passenger from a hijacked Singaporean vessel, the “Hai Soon 12,” near Borneo on Sunday.

Nine suspected pirates from Indonesia were being investigated and authorities believe that they worked for a transnational syndicate.

“The nine perpetrators were ordered by someone from Singapore to bring the hijacked ship to Timor Leste,” said Darwanto, the commander of Indonesian East Region Navy. “The Indonesian Navy will further investigate the networks involved in this case.”

The suspected pirates claimed to be fishermen but were lured by the offer of 200 million rupiah (U.S. $15,000) from the syndicate if they brought the tanker loaded with 420 tons of oil to Timor Leste.

Heny Rahayu in Malang, Indonesia contributed to this report.

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