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Philippine tracker dogs to help look for hostages

October 6, 2014

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine military is deploying 10 teams of tracker dogs to help locate about a dozen hostages being held by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in jungle bases in the south, including two German tourists the militants have threatened to kill.

The teams will leave Manila on a C130 cargo plane Tuesday heading to Zamboanga city for eventual deployment to Jolo island in Sulu province, where the hostages were being held separately, military spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said Monday.

The intensified manhunt was intended to pressure the ransom-seeking militants but he added the military has given no order for a rescue to be launched. More army troops have also been deployed to Sulu, a poor, predominantly Muslim region 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila.

“We want to pressure them to eventually release the hostages,” Cabunoc said. “If they’re free to roam everywhere, they dictate the tempo. We must be the one dictating the tempo.”

The military move came after an Abu Sayyaf faction led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan threatened to kill one of their two German captives if a huge ransom was not paid this month.

The militants have posted a picture on the Internet showing one of several masked men holding a long knife above the nape of a kneeling Stefan Okonek beside his companion, Henrike Dielen. They have allowed the two to speak on a local radio network in an apparent bid to pressure their families and the German government.

Okonek, who said he was a medical doctor, and Dielen were taken at gunpoint from a yacht between Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo Island and the western Philippine province of Palawan in April and then taken to an encampment off Sulu’s mountainous Patikul town, military and police officials said.

Philippine officials have said they would not negotiate. Cabunoc said government forces would not take any step that would endanger the captives.

The German foreign ministry formed a crisis team and is in touch with Philippine authorities. It has refused to provide more details in line with a policy of not discussing kidnapping cases.

Aside from the Germans, the militants hold a Dutch and a Swiss seized more than two years ago while birdwatching trip in the south. Another Abu Sayyaf faction led by Alhabsi Misaya is holding a Malaysian marine police officer taken in Sabah in July. The rest of the hostages are Filipinos.

Ransom kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf have alarmed neighboring countries and show the militants still pose a threat despite U.S.-backed Philippine military offensives.

In 2000, Abu Sayyaf gunmen snatched 21 European tourists and Malaysian and Filipino workers from a Malaysian diving resort and brought them to Sulu, where they eventually were freed in exchange for large ransom payments.

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