Saturday, September 29, 2012

September 18, 2000


September 18, 2000, AFP, Unease grows as Philippine troops fail to rescue any hostages,
September 18, 2000, AFP, Hostages in Philippines must endure hell of military offensive,
September 18, 2000, AFP, Manila admits first civilian deaths as army assault enters third day,
September 18, 2000, AFP, Rival Philippine Muslim group vows not to help Abu Sayyaf rebels,
September 18, 2000, AFP, Philippines rejects ceasefire with hostage-takers,
September 18, 2000, AFP, Philippines hostage rescue could take months: ex-general,
September 18, 2000, AFP, Military cordon hinders evacuations on Philippine hostage island,
September 18, 2000, Reuters, Manila Says Civilians Killed in Jolo Assault,


September 18, 2000, AFP, Unease grows as Philippine troops fail to rescue any hostages,

MANILA, Sept 18 (AFP) - 12:30 - Unease was growing Monday as troops failed to rescue any of the 22 American, French, Malaysian or Filipino hostages three days into a massive operation in the southern Philippines.

Officials have grudgingly admitted that the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, exploiting their knowledge of the terrain, have burrowed deep into the jungle to frustrate the attack on the remote island of Jolo which started before dawn on Saturday.

They said the guerrillas are thought to be using the hostages as human shields, but maintained that none have come to any harm.

Armed forces chief of staff General Angelo Reyes has said the rebels are believed to be still on Jolo.

Earlier, a senior army official, speaking on condition of anonymity, had told AFP that at least 70 Abu Sayyaf gunmen evaded a naval blockade around Jolo and escaped to nearby Basilan island.

Several hundred demonstrators marched on the presidential palace here Monday, in the first local display of opposition to President Joseph Estrada's drastic attempt to end the nearly five-month-old hostage crisis.

France, the only country to criticise the assault, has kept up the pressure on Manila, insisting that "that the hostages' safety must remain a priority."

"The ground assault is still ongoing. The assessment by the military is that it won't take a week," Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said Monday.

Reyes said on Sunday that casualties on both sides were minimal considering the size of the military force.

But he said that "unfortunately", the gunmen had chosen to yield ground rather than fight a conventional battle against more than 4,000 troops mustered against them.

The peso and local share prices mirrored the unease and opened lower Monday.

"The military attack against the Abu Sayyaf will continue to sideline investors. Market players will adopt a wait-and-see attitude until the crisis is resolved," said Christopher Canilanza of brokerage house Orion-Squire Capital.

The assault "should be positive as finally we see action on the part of government, but I think the uncertainty is to whether the attack will be successful," said a currency trader at a foreign bank.

Retired army general Alfredo Filler, who now runs a private security consultancy, told AFP shortly before the assault that the Muslim extremist gunmen have "familiarity with the terrain, maybe they have some supporters within the civilian population."

He added: "The military option is always a difficult one, especially in this particular case. This is not a hostage situation where the hostages are confined to a building. They are out there in the field. Even the military options that you have are limited."

The hostages are believed to be dispersed over a wide area of Jolo, a tropical jungle-clad island measuring 897 square kilometers (345 square miles). The mainly Muslim island has been a hotbed of rebellion and piracy for the past century.

Another retired general, Senator Rodolfo Biazon, expressed doubt Monday whether the invasion force, called "Task Force Trident", was adequate.

Biazon, a former Marine general and military chief of staff, was involved in hunting down the Muslim extremist Moro National Liberation Front -- which counted among its members relatives of the present-day Abu Sayyaf -- more than 20 years ago.

Biazon failed to track down only one group of rebels with eight battalions of men, roughly the same number as the military are using to hunt several Abu Sayyaf groups.

"What we don't know now is, do they have enough (troops) to encircle" the Abu Sayyaf, Biazon said. --AFP


September 18, 2000, AFP, Hostages in Philippines must endure hell of military offensive,

MANILA, Sept 18 (AFP) - 9:31 - For 22 hostages held by Muslim extremists in the southern Philippines, the military offensive aimed at rescuing them is probably turning their already harsh ordeal into a nightmare.

Government officials believe none of the hostages has been killed. Military chief General Angelo Reyes said Sunday the kidnappers fled to the hills, taking hostages with them, after troops launched the assault on their strongholds in the southern island of Jolo on Saturday.

Despite earlier threats to kill the hostages if a rescue attempt were launched, Reyes believes the Abu Sayyaf will keep them alive as they provide "no small amount of protection" from the military.

Only a handful of Abu Sayyaf have been killed so far as the extremists are fleeing rather than engaging the troops, Reyes said.

French television channel France-2 said Abu Sayyaf leader Galib Andang, accompanied by a dozen armed men, fled his camp before the offensive and took two kidnapped France-2 journalists, Jean Jacques Le Garrec and Roland Madura, with him.

Military officials in Jolo previously warned that the thickly forested, hilly terrain would make catching the extremists difficult. They said the gunmen would have few qualms about making their captives march for hours in the dark through this rough country.

This was precisely what the first set of 21 hostages endured when they were snatched from the Malaysian resort of Sipadan on April 23 and taken by sea to Jolo.

The military and police pursued the kidnappers, prompting the Abu Sayyaf to keep their captives on the move even as they exchanged shots with soldiers.

The 21 -- Malaysians, Germans, French, South Africans, Finnish, Filipinos and a Franco-Lebanese woman -- were forced to live in huts in the jungle, groping their way from place to place at night under armed escort, often terrified by gunfire.

Diarrhoea contracted from drinking dirty stream water hit many of them. They also grew thin and weak from the spartan diet of rice and root crops.

Balnkrishnan Nair, a Malaysian hostage freed on July 21, later recalled that "six people had to share one glass of water a day. The last one to drink has to drink all the dirt and sediment at the bottom."

All but one of the Sipadan hostages has been freed. Many remember this early period as the worst part of their months-long captivity and some blame the Philippine military more than their captors.

German hostage Werner Wallert, 57, freed on August 27, later said that the threat to their lives did not come from the Abu Sayyaf.

"The immediate danger of death came from the Philippine military," he recounted.

"An attack, that is what we feared the most," Finnish ex-hostage Risto Vahanen said recently, adding that troops launched two attacks on Aby Sayyaf hideouts while he was being held.

Freed Malaysian hostage Ken Fong said that during a 45-minute gunbattle, the hostages could only lie on the floor of a hut in terror as guns and bombs went off around them.

In mid-May the military withdrew its cordon around the hideouts due to pressure from European governments, who feared their citizens would be hurt.

Analysts believe this emboldened the Abu Sayyaf to seize more hostages even as they freed some in exchange for large ransom payments.

After their latest kidnapping of three more Malaysians on September 10, President Joseph Estrada decided that despite the risk to the captives, "enough is enough." --AFP


September 18, 2000, AFP, Manila admits first civilian deaths as army assault enters third day,

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, Sept 18 (AFP) - 11:05 - Four civilians have been killed and thousands have fled their homes in the huge military attack on Muslim kidnappers in the southern Philippines which entered its third day Monday, senior officials said.

They said 22 hostages held by Abu Sayyaf rebels on the island of Jolo were believed to be safe.

"We have four civilians confirmed killed," Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado told AFP, adding one was a child aged 11 and another was a woman.

He said they came from the towns of Talipao and Maimbung but there was no information on how they died.

"The ground assault is still ongoing. The assessment by the military is that it won't take a week," Mercado said.

Six Abu Sayyaf fighters have been killed and 20 captured, and four soldiers wounded since the air and ground onslaught began early Saturday, he said.

Mercado earlier told DZM radio: "We believe, and in the assessment of the military, that they (hostages) are alive. They are the insurance of the hostage-takers."

Abdusakar Tan, governor of Sulu province which includes Jolo island, told AFP: "The hostages are still alive. They have to keep them as human shields."

But as the operation by some 4,000 troops went into a third day there was still no firm news of the captives -- an American, two Frenchmen, three Malaysians and 16 Filipinos.

A senior army official, speaking on condition of anonymity, earlier told AFP that at least 70 Abu Sayyaf gunmen evaded a naval blockade around Jolo and escaped to nearby Basilan island after troops overran two of their strongholds.

But armed forces chief of staff General Angelo Reyes has said the rebels are believed to be still on the jungle-clad island of Jolo, which measures 20 kilometers (12 miles) by 50 kilometers (30 miles).

Tan said he also believed the Abu Sayyaf were still on Jolo.

"It is hard to elude the dragnet set up by the military and police," he said. "The only way out is by swimming."

The governor disputed unconfirmed newspaper reports of 600 casualties in the fierce air bombardment or subsequently. "We only know of four civilians confined in the hospital," he said, making no mention of any civilian deaths.

The government has imposed a news blackout on the island.

Tan said he did not expect many civilian casualties. "The military know where to drop bombs."

Tan said up to 1,000 families or roughly 4,000 to 5,000 people had fled their homes in the Jolo towns of Talipao, Patikul and Indanan.

"There are 10 evacuation centers set up in the (Jolo) town. People are streaming in," he said, adding he had asked the government to supply food and medicine.

Tan said Abu Sayyaf camps in Bandang and Samak around Talipao and certain areas in Patikul town had been seized by the military.

"I'm appealing to the people of Jolo to be ready for some sacrifices. It won't last long, then we will go back to normal."

President Joseph Estrada, who ordered the attack to end the five week hostage crisis saying "enough is enough", has told the military the safety of the hostages is "paramount."

French President Jacques Chirac, worried about two French television journalists, on Saturday expressed his "lively concern and disagreement" to Estrada after the launch of the attack.

The hostage crisis began on April 23 with the abduction of 21 people from a resort on Sipadan island in neighbouring Malaysia.

All but one of those captives has been released but the Abu Sayyaf has been replenishing its pool of hostages even while negotiating with the government.

Officials have dismissed a reported appeal by an Abu Sayyaf leader calling for a ceasefire so both sides could continue negotiations. --AFP


September 18, 2000, AFP, Rival Philippine Muslim group vows not to help Abu Sayyaf rebels,

MANILA, Sept 18 (AFP) - 14:08 - The Philippines' largest Muslim separatist guerrilla group pledged Monday to stay out of the way as a large military task force hunted down rival Islamic rebels holding 22 hostages.

"We condemn their activities," Moro Islamic Liberation Frontspokesman Eid Kabalu said of the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers.

"They are simply lawless elements," he said over radio station DZMM.

The armed forces launched a massive operation in the Abu Sayyaf's southern stronghold of Jolo island on Saturday in a bid to rescue the American, French, Malaysian and Filipino hostages.

Kabalu said in another interview over radio station DYSS in the central city of Cebu that the MILF also had a presence on Jolo. He said these units "would not lend a hand to the Abu Sayyaf."

"They are giving Islam a bad name," he added.

The hostage crisis started five months ago when the Abu Sayyaf captured 21 people from a Malaysian island resort in April. All but one, a Filipino dive instructor, have been released.

But the gunmen have repeatedly taken other captives to replenish their pool of hostages. --AFP


September 18, 2000, AFP, Philippines rejects ceasefire with hostage-takers,

MANILA, Sept 18 (AFP) - 17:18 - President Joseph Estrada on Monday rejected a ceasefire offer by Muslim guerrillas holding 22 hostages including six foreigners and his spokesman said a three-day old military rescue operation would proceed.

The Abu Sayyaf has sent "a lot of feelers through credible emissaries," but "it's too late in the day," presidential spokesman Ricardo Puno told reporters.

"But since the assault has begun, we cannot compromise any more our military position by calling a ceasefire."

Puno said Estrada would defer to field commanders before making the final decision on any ceasefire.

At the outset, he said, it was unlikely the government would accept any calls for a truce. --AFP


September 18, 2000, Reuters, Manila Says Civilians Killed in Jolo Assault,
WIRE:09/18/2000 07:40:00 ET

JOLO, Philippines (Reuters) - Four civilians have been killed in fighting in the southern Philippines where the military kept up a relentless assault for a third day on Monday on Muslim rebels holding 19 hostages, the government said.

Manila rejected calls for a cease-fire or for resumed negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf rebels for the hostages, saying that would not be in the national interest.

A senior official said troops had overrun hideouts of the rebels on southern Jolo island but there was no sign of the guerrillas or their hostages, who include six foreigners. The government has said it believes all the hostages -- 13 Filipinos, three Malaysians, two French television journalists and an American -- are alive but could be used as human shields. "There is still no indication that the hostages have been harmed," Brigadier General Generoso Senga told a news conference in southern Zamboanga, the nearest town to Jolo.

Jolo residents and local officials said the rebels had broken up into about half a dozen groups of 100 to 500 each and scattered across the island. One group was holding the American and one Filipino, another the Malaysians and a third a dozen Filipino evangelists, they said. About 200 armed men led by rebel chieftain Galib Andang, also known as Commander Robot, were holding the two Frenchmen and were holed up on the slopes of a mountain which has a network of underground tunnels built by occupying Japanese forces during World War Two, they said.

Military officials said there was only one ground battle with the guerrillas during the day, indicating they were on the run and not inclined to confront the troops. That means the operation to rescue the hostages could drag on and prove costly for President Joseph Estrada, who ordered the assault after scathing criticism of his policy to negotiate with the guerrillas.

The negotiations lasted for almost five months and many hostages were freed in exchange for ransom said to amount to millions of dollars. But commentators said the events humiliated the country, especially since the rebels continued to kidnap new hostages to replace ones they freed.


Asked whether France had called for a cease-fire because of fears for the safety of its nationals held hostage, chief government spokesman Ricardo Puno said: "At this point, it is not likely that there will be a cease-fire or that negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf will resume for the release of the hostages. "The president has been...very clear about what he considers to be the national interest in this particular area."

Estrada was heard telling the military officer commanding the assault on Sunday: "...Let"s kill all these Abu Sayyaf, they have given us only embarrassment." On Monday, however, officials denied he had made the remarks.

Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado told Reuters four civilians had been killed in the assault, but he gave no details. "Air strikes are continuing," he said. On Sunday, armed forces chief General Angelo Reyes said six rebels were killed in the fighting and 20 captured. Four soldiers have been wounded, he said.

The military began bombarding bases of the guerrillas on Saturday. Residents have said scores have been killed or wounded in the attack but the military has released few details and maintained a blockade around the area of operations.

The top government medical officer on Jolo said she wanted a cease-fire to evacuate the wounded. "I need a few hours for a cease-fire so we can bring in our ambulances and take some of those injured people (away)," said Dr Nelsa Amin. "I am sure there are casualties in the hinterland," she told reporters in Zamboanga.


Residents said naval cannons peppered coastal areas of Jolo on Monday morning in an apparent attempt to prevent rebels slipping out. A barrage of mortar bombs into rebel-held territory in the interior was also being kept up, they said.

"A three-km (two-mile) stretch in Patikul municipality has become a no-man"s land," said one villager who escaped to the main town on the island. He said 30 houses were burned down in the assault and several local people had been killed, including children. "It"s as if there is martial law here," said another resident in the town, adding that some 200 people were at the solitary airport begging for rides on military aircraft. Ferry services and a thrice-weekly flight to Zamboanga have been suspended.

Governor Abdusakur Tan, the top civilian official on Jolo, said the rebels may use their hostages for cover. Asked in Zamboanga whether the guerrillas would harm the hostages, he told reporters: "I don"t think so because they would keep the hostages as human shields."

Police officials had said they estimated the strength of the rebels at about 5,000, but said many could melt away at the first sign of attack. About 500 to 1,000 were hardcore, they said. But the rebels have been bolstered by their ransom, much of which they have spent on new weapons and ammunition, the officials have said. ---ABC


September 18, 2000, AFP, Philippines hostage rescue could take months: ex-general,

MANILA, Sept 18 (AFP) - 15:22 - A hostage rescue operation by the Philippine military which started Saturday could take months to complete, a retired general who once commanded the military in the south warned Monday.

President Joseph Estrada Sunday told the army to "destroy the Abu Sayyaf" and rescue 22 American, French, Malaysian and Filipino hostages within a week. A 4,000-member military task force is pursuing the Muslim extremists on the southern island of Jolo.

But retired army general Delfin Castro, head between 1980 and 1986 of the southern Philippines military command which oversees Jolo, scoffed at the timetable as a "very optimistic estimate."

"I would say if he can clear Jolo in a month's time, that would already be extraordinary," Castro said over ABS-CBN television.

"I would give him three months or more to do it. Three months may even be a short time knowing the terrain of Jolo and the number of firearms in civilian hands," he said.

Castro said there were also a number of sympathizers among the population of just under half a million "who may give aid and comfort to the Abu Sayyaf." In which case "it could take even longer, maybe six months."

The tropical jungle-covered island measuring 897 square kilometerssquare miles) has been a hotbed of rebellion and piracy for the past century. --AFP


September 18, 2000, AFP, Military cordon hinders evacuations on Philippine hostage island,

JOLO, Philippines, Sept 18 (AFP) - 20:46 - Evacuees, fleeing from a military assault against Muslim hostage-takers on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, cannot seek food or medical aid because of a tight military cordon around the island's capital, eyewitnesses and residents said Monday.

Jolo town residents and outsiders who managed to pass the cordon said that even the wounded from rural areas could not enter the town for medical treatment.

Doctors in the island capital were too afraid of the fighting to venture out, they added.

Transportation and communication lines to Jolo island were cut after the government mounted a military assault on Saturday on the Abu Sayyaf group, who are holding 22 foreign and local hostages on Jolo.

Residents said that thus far only one fatality and two wounded people had been brought into Jolo town since the assault began.

Fighting has been confined to the four towns of Talipao, Maimbung, Patikul and Indanan, alleged lairs of the Abu Sayyaf, a few kilometers (miles) outside the capital.

Hundreds of evacuees fleeing the fighting could only get as far as the town of Timbangan, just beside Jolo town.

People who managed to slip through the cordon said wounded evacuees had no doctors to treat them and were being forced to rely on village herbalists.

The evacuees were also running low on food because there were no deliveries reaching them.

Although military air strikes against the Abu Sayyaf had ceased by Monday, the sound of artillery blasting Abu Sayyaf positions continued to be heard in Jolo town.

A villager said he and a group of villagers were walking to safety when a military patrol spotted them. One of his companions, dressed in camouflage clothes, panicked and began running and the soldiers, thinking he was an Abu Sayyaf member, opened fire on them.

The villager said his group escaped and that he had been able to get into the town through the intervention of a relative, a senior local official. Even then, he had to present numerous documents attesting to his identity.

A news blackout has been imposed on the island since the assault began although a few reports have slipped out.

Local officials previously said they had enough designated evacuation centers and relief supplies in Jolo town but it was unclear if the fleeing villagers were able to reach them.

The government has said eight Abu Sayyaf members and four civilians have been killed in the fighting so far while seven government troops had been wounded. Twenty Abu Sayyaf members had also been captured.

None of the hostages has been reported harmed.

Provincial governor Abdusakur Tan said up to 1,000 families, around 4,000 to 5,000 people, had fled their homes.

The Abu Sayyaf, which is estimated to number about 4,000, had previously threatened to massacre civilians in Jolo town and other population centers in the southern Philippines if the military tried to rescue the hostages. ---AFP


No comments: