Abu Sayyaf militants have freed 10 Indonesian tugboat crewmen who were seized at sea in March and taken to a jungle encampment in the southern Philippines, officials said Sunday.
The Indonesians appeared to be in good health when they were dropped off Sunday in front of the house of Sulu province's governor in the town of Jolo, said the town's police chief, Junpikar Sitin. The 10 men were then brought to a Philippine military camp, where arrangements were to be made for them to be turned over to Indonesian officials.
Jolo's mayor, Hussin Amin, welcomed the release of the Indonesians, but said he was unaware whether a ransom had been paid.
"If this big release came in exchange for money, those who paid are supporting the Abu Sayyaf," he said. "This money will be used to buy more firearms and will be utilized as mobilization funds by these criminals."
An army officer who has been helping to deal with kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf said a rebel commander from the Moro National Liberation Front, which has signed a peace deal with the Philippine government, helped negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of the Indonesians.
The hostages were escorted down from a jungle encampment in Sulu and left outside the home of the governor, who fed the freed captives, said the army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The 10 Indonesians were taken by the militants at gunpoint from a tugboat in March. Four other Indonesian crewmen, who were snatched on board another tugboat last month, remain in captivity.
When asked whether ransom was paid, the army officer said he was unaware of any ransom payment, but added that it was hard to imagine the Abu Sayyaf freeing hostages without receiving money.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen beheaded a Canadian hostage in Sulu last Monday after they failed to receive a huge ransom by a deadline they had set. Philippine troops launched an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf after the beheading, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to help the Philippines bring the killers to justice.
More than a dozen foreign and local hostages remain in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf, including another Canadian. (**)
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