Manila: The Philippine terror group Abu Sayyaf has threatened to execute one of two foreign hostages on June 13 unless a ransom worth 600 million pesos ($13 million) is paid.
Canadian Robert Hall and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad have been held by Abu Sayyaf since September, when they were abducted from a luxury resort in the Mindanao region managed by Sekkingstad. Last month Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded John Ridsdel, another Canadian kidnapped in the same raid.
"I appeal to my government and the Philippine government, as I have appealed before, for help," said Hall in a new video released on May 13 and posted on SITE, a US research group that tracks militant sites.
A four-decade insurgency in the southern island of Mindanao has left as many as 200,000 people dead. Kidnappers in the region, including Abu Sayyaf, often take hostages for ransom to finance their operations. The violence has hampered development in a region that holds half of the country’s mineral reserves.
The military hasn’t confirmed the latest video, military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told reporters in Manila Monday. Efforts to rescue the remaining hostages continue, he said.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, who hails from Mindanao and has served more than two decades as mayor of Davao City, has pledged to revive peace talks after he takes office on June 30. Congress failed to pass a peace deal signed by outgoing President Benigno Aquino with the leading separatist group that would have granted more autonomy to the region in return for peace.
“To the whole Moros in the Philippines, I extend my hand in peace,” Duterte said.
Abu Sayyaf was not party to the peace agreement, and Duterte has called for the group to lay down its arms.
“We don’t go to war with our own people but at one time, I would ask them to release the hostages,” Duterte told reporters in Davao City early Monday, referring to Abu Sayyaf. The abductions in Mindanao must stop because it’s hurting the country’s image and “there has to be a time when they have to surrender and account for what they did,” he said.
Implementing a peace plan would add to pressure on Abu Sayyaf to end its campaign. The peace pact reached with the main militant group provides a road map for a new autonomous entity called Bangsamoro, whose structure would be defined by Congress. Under the deal the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) must abandon its pursuit of a separate state in return for more power, control of natural resources and territory.