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Philippine troops, rebels to fight kidnappings

April 20, 2014

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government will work with the largest Muslim rebel group, with which it signed a peace deal last month, to curb an alarming number of kidnappings in the south, officials and the rebels said Sunday.

Government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said Philippine security officials and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels would meet this week to renew an agreement that allows the insurgents to help Filipino troops capture kidnappers and other outlaws in or near their southern strongholds.

Despite the accord, which was enforced in 2005, and a government crackdown, kidnappings have spiked, with nearly 100 cases recorded in the last three years. Gunmen have carried out 23 kidnappings of about 30 victims so far this year in four southern provinces, Coronel-Ferrer said.

Coronel-Ferrer called on kidnappers Sunday to release their captives as an “Easter gift.”

“There have been too many abductions,” she said, citing the kidnappings of children, students, businessmen, journalists, teachers, village leaders, foreigners and the elderly. “Many of these kidnap victims are still in captivity, while some have been killed.”

The 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a comprehensive autonomy deal with the Moro rebel group last month to end years of fighting in the south. But at least four other smaller armed Islamic groups, including the brutal Abu Sayyaf, continue to threaten attacks and carry out kidnappings for ransom.

Abu Sayyaf extremists freed a government engineer late Saturday after more than two months of jungle captivity in southern Sulu province, the military said.

Bonifacio Salinas and his wife, who both work for the government’s water supply agency in Jolo town in Sulu, were abducted by Abu Sayyaf gunmen on Feb. 16. His wife was freed last month, marines spokesman Capt. Ryan Lacuesta said, adding that it was not immediately clear whether ransom was paid in exchange for their freedom.

Two weeks ago, army troops launched an attack against Abu Sayyaf gunmen who were blamed for kidnapping a 21-year-old woman and extorting money from a construction firm building a key road in southern Basilan province, sparking clashes that killed at least nine militants.

Among the dead, however, was a Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebel who was a relative of an Abu Sayyaf commander responsible for kidnappings, the military said.

Coronel-Ferrer urged the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to purge its guerrilla force of members, who connive with violent armed groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.

“As an organization that signed the peace agreement, the MILF must not tolerate the criminal acts of any of their individual members,” she said. “They must do their part in arresting the impunity long enjoyed by these unscrupulous individuals.”

Under the agreement that came into force in 2005, Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas cannot undertake their own anti-crime assaults but can pass on information to help soldiers and policemen track down kidnappers and terrorists in or near their southern rebel strongholds.

Both sides also were also required under the agreement to coordinate to avoid accidental clashes when Philippine forces pursue Abu Sayyaf gunmen and terror suspects in several Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebel bases.

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