Manila: President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is considering holding talks with a 28-year-old hostage-taking group that has links with Daesh in Syria and Iraq and the Al Qaida terror network, which was once led by the late Osama Bin Laden.
“The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), they are not my enemies. I know that [their fight] is connected with the issue of Mindanao,” said Duterte during a celebration party for him by supporters in Cebu City, central Philippines, late on Saturday night, the transcript of which reached Manila’s media offices.
“I just want a clarification: Are they willing to talk or just fight it out?” asked Duterte.
“But I have to buy rifles and bullets, cannons, and bombs to kill a Filipino. I could hardly move my finger to sign a document buying things just to kill my fellowmen. It’s [a] painful [thing to do],” Duterte said.
It was the first time that a Philippine President has offered to hold talks with a terrorist group.
One of ASG’s leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, has been allegedly appointed by Daesh chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, to head a Daesh branch in Basilan, intelligence reports said.
The ASG group was identified as the abductor of seven Indonesian crewmen of Tugboat Charles 001 and Barge Robby 152 at 11.30am and at 12.45pm in the Sulu Sea on June 20.
Indonesia’s transportation ministry issued an order on June 24 to not give permits to coal-carrying Indonesian-flagged vessels that will sail to the Philippines. Ninety-eight per cent of Philippines’ coal requirements come from Kalimantan, Indonesia.
From late April to mid-May, the ASG was blamed for the kidnappings of 18 Indonesian and four Malaysian crewmen in three separate incidents in the Sulu, Sulawesi and Celebes Seas. All hostages have since been released.
Defence and foreign affairs officials of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines held a maritime meeting to solve ASG’s deadly piracy activities on their borders.
Duterte said that incoming peace negotiator, Jesus Dureza, and local government leaders in Sulu are securing the release of Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad from the ASG, adding that emissaries had negotiated with the same group, which resulted in the release of Marites Flor, a Filipino, in Sulu on June 24.
The ASG abducted Flor, Sekkingstad, and Canadians John Ridsedl and Robert Hall from a resort on Samal Island off Davao City and took them to Sulu last September.
Ridsdel and Hall were beheaded after the P300 million (Dh23 million) ransom demanded for each of them was not paid by ASG’s deadline of April 27 and June 13, respectively. Hall was Flor’s boyfriend. The ASG released online a video of his gruesome beheading on June 14.
With the help of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Philippine government has forged three pro-autonomy peace settlements with two major and older Filipino-Muslim rebel groups in 1976, 1996, and 2014.