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Published: Sunday May 4, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday May 4, 2014 MYT 11:39:53 AM

Game of smoke and mirrors in kidnap isle

People on the move: Jolo town in Jolo island in Sulu province, southern Philippines.

People on the move: Jolo town in Jolo island in Sulu province, southern Philippines.

In the last five months, there have been two kidnappings in Semporna, Sabah, by gunmen from Sulu in southern Philippines. PHILIP GOLINGAI visited Jolo island – the Philippines’ cross border capital – to investigate why Filipino kidnappers are targeting Sabah

SULU: If you ask 10 people in Jolo island where the hostages abducted from Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna, Sabah, are located, you might get 10 different answers.

“They are in Sulu. Most probably in the border of Patikul and Talipao,” said Octavio A. Dinampo, the CEO of Assist Jolo, a non-governmental organisation.

“My informers told me that they were transferred from Pandami (an island in Sulu province) to Jolo island on April 17.”

On April 3, Shanghai tourist Gao Huayun, 29, and Filipino resort worker Marcy Dayawan, 40, were kidnapped by Filipino gunmen from Singamata Reef Resort at about 10.30pm.

“I can definitely say they are not in Sulu,” said the Philippines National Police’s Sulu Provincial Director Supt Abraham Orbita.

Welcome to Jolo island where the game of smoke and mirrors is played.

The kidnappings in Semporna, according to Dinampo, were not the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) but a kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) group.

He said the KFR group would sell a hostage to the Abu Sayyaf or other armed group in Jolo island.

“Once you deposit the hostage to the ASG, the heat generated from the kidnapping will go away. And the KFR leader will be free.

“Nobody will focus on their role in the kidnapping and they can operate like legitimate businessmen,” he said.

Arguably, all of the hostages abducted in Semporna since the first cross-border kidnapping in 2000 have been held in Jolo island.

Currently, armed groups are holding two well-known bird watchers – Ewold Horn, a 53-year-old Dutch, and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a 48-year-old Swiss, who were abducted in Tawi-Tawi in February 2012 – and Toshio Ito, a 64-year-old Japanese treasure hunter kidnapped from Pangutaran Island in Sulu province in July, 2010.

The island, which is about 300km from Semporna, is the Philippines cross-border kidnap capital because of its terrain.

“In the hinterland, the terrain is mountainous, rocky and treacherous. It is the perfect place to keep hostages,” said an Armed Forces of the Philippines intelligence officer.

“People in the area have close family ties. The community also acts as the eyes for the Abu Sayyaf.”

Dinampo, who was held hostage for 10 days in Talipao/Patikul, Jolo island in 1999, said that a minimum of 15 people guarded him in the daytime and a maximum of 50 people at night.

“That is the first layer of security. The second is the community they live in. The villagers and even their children are trained to monitor the presence of security forces,” he said.

“Our surrounding was also booby trapped with IED (improvised explosive device) – ping pong balls filled with explosives. If you step on it, boom!”

Related stories:

'Kidnapping a cottage industry in poverty-stricken Sulu'
Where kidnapping is a lucrative industry

Tags / Keywords: Nation, Courts & Crime, Jolo, kidnap

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