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Abu letter surfaces amid ransom talks,

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Abu letter surfaces amid ransom talks, 

Posted: 10:18 PM (Manila Time) | June 18, 2001

By Juliet L. Javellana and Armand N. Nocum
Inquirer News Service
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THE ABU Sayyaf has written a letter saying it "unconditionally" released three hostages in order to reopen talks with government mediators on the fate of its remaining captives, Malacañang said yesterday. 

Presidential spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao said lawyer Francis Ganzon, one of three ex-hostages who walked to freedom over the weekend, hand-delivered the letter, handwritten in English, to President Macapagal-Arroyo on Saturday. 

Asked if the Palace was presenting it as proof that no ransom was paid for Ganzon and Uy, Tiglao said: "Take it however you want, it said ‘unconditionally released.’ Ransom would be a condition for release, logically." 

According to Tiglao, the letter says "that (the kidnappers) are unconditionally releasing the two hostages as a gesture that they want a reopening of talks," Tiglao said. 

Malacañang is treating the letter as "authentic," and taking the "offer to resume talks" seriously, because the letter was sent through the freed captives, he said. 

The President has instructed negotiator William Castillo to "relay to the Abu Sayyaf the receipt of the letter and to tell them that Mr. Castillo will be talking to them about this," Tiglao told reporters. 

"We have informed them that Mr. Castillo has received the letter and (wants) to talk to them," he said. 

The letter merely opened with the salutation “Greetings,” and was signed by an Abu Sayyaf leader whom Tiglao declined to identify. 

"The letter wasn’t addressed specifically to the President, who was quite curious," he added. 

Tiglao said that letter spoke of the release of two hostages, presumably referring to Ganzon and Kimberly Jao Uy, who both belonged to the original group of captives seized from the Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan. 



Tiglao said the Abu Sayyaf letter used the word "mediators" when it talked about reopening negotiations. 

Early in the crisis, the President appointed Castillo to negotiate with the group, which abducted three Americans and 17 Filipinos from Dos Palmas and later, 15 more plantation workers in Basilan. 

Tiglao disclosed the letter when reporters asked him about Castillo’s progress, if any. 

Ms Macapagal had called off talks last Tuesday, saying the outlaws’ earlier demand for Malaysian mediators had become "academic" after Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Abu Sabaya announced that his group had beheaded Californian Guillermo Sobero.



‘Losing control’

Senators warned the Macapagal administration that it seemed to be losing control of the hostage crisis judging from reports of ransom being paid by hostages’ families. 

In separate interviews, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, head of the Senate panel on national defense and security, and Minority leader Sen. Renato Cayetano, said the government should ensure the implementation of its no-ransom policy. 

"A no-ransom policy should not only mean ‘no ransom being paid by the government,’ it should mean ‘no ransom being paid by anyone,’" Biazon said in a telephone interview. 

He noted that relatives of the victims would not be able to establish contact with the terrorists if the government were in control of the situation. 

"Contact can only be made because the government is not in control," he said. 

"I think that the government has lost control over the situation," Biazon added. 

Blind eye

But he raised the possibility that the government was merely turning a blind eye to ransom deals in order to lessen the number of hostages. 

“There cannot be negotiations that government is not aware of,” he said. 

Cayetano agreed that the persistent but unverified reports of ransom payments indicated that the government is “losing the battle” in trying to stick to its no-ransom policy. 

He admitted, however, that it was probably impossible for the government to keep hostages’ relatives from paying for the freedom of their loved ones since “the primary interest of the families of the victims is their safety and they will do everything to ensure that.”


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