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Jakarta Post

Three Indonesian hostages freed by Abu Sayyaf, fourth to follow

  • Haeril Halim

    The Jakarta Post

Zamboanga, Philippine   /   Mon, September 19, 2016   /  08:28 am
Three Indonesian hostages freed by Abu Sayyaf, fourth to follow Three Indonesian sailors released on Sunday and handed over to Philippine authorities in Zamboanga will fly to Manila to undergo a medical check-up before being flown home to Indonesia on Tuesday. (JP/Haeril Halim)

"From day to day in their captivity, it felt like we were just waiting for our time to be beheaded," Theodorus Kopong Koten recalls his captivity by the Abu Sayyaf group.

For 75 days he had been a hostage of the notorious militants in the Sulu islands region of the southern Philippines. He is one of three Indonesian sailors released by the Abu Sayyaf group on Sunday in Zamboanga.

"It was very scary. There was no life there. I cannot say thank you enough for the release, and it is only God who could respond to the efforts by Indonesian and Philippine authorities to make the release possible," Theodorus said on Sunday.

The other two sailors are Lorens Koten and Emmanuel. The three crewmen were on board a Malaysian-flagged fishing boat when kidnapped by the militants on July 9 in Lahat Datu waters in Malaysia.

Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, who came to Zamboanga to witness the handover of the hostages from the Philippine military to Indonesian officials, said a fourth Indonesian sailor was expected to be released on Monday.

He refused to give details on the fourth Indonesian, but said all four released hostages would return to Indonesia on Tuesday.

Indonesia thanked the Philippine military for achieving the release, with help from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Ryamizard denied speculation that the government had paid a ransom for their release. However, he said he did not know whether the hostages’ families or employers paid a ransom. Abu Sayyaf is notorious for taking hostages and threatening to behead them for ransom.

"We, Indonesia and the Philippines, do not want to be extorted. We did not and never will pay a single penny," Ryamizard said told a press briefing in Zamboanga on Sunday.

Once the fourth hostage is finally released, the group will still be holding another five Indonesians. At least 18 Indonesians have been kidnapped in separate incidents since May, including two who reportedly escaped on their own in August.

The Indonesian government had been pushing for negotiations in the hostage crisis, Ryamirzard said, noting that securing the release of the three sailors had been a tough process.

Yet he expressed optimism that the remaining five hostages would soon be freed, following a Philippine military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf gunmen. Philippine forces have deployed 22,000 personnel to corner the militants in the Sulu islands following orders from President Rodrigo Duterte.

The commander of the Western Mindanao Command, Mayoralgo de la Cruz, said the Philippine government had cooperated with the MNLF, as the latter was familiar with the Sulu Island area and its members had a broad network in the region.

"We will be much happier once we receive all the remaining Indonesian hostages from Abu Sayyaf. President Duterte has ordered us to go after the group," Cruz said. (rin)

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