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Home/ stevenwarran's Library/ Notes/ August 10, 2000, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Source says some groups took cuts on P9-M payoff, by Donna S. Cueto,

August 10, 2000, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Source says some groups took cuts on P9-M payoff, by Donna S. Cueto,

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August 10, 2000, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Source says some groups took cuts on P9-M payoff, by Donna S. Cueto,

MORE than P400 million has been paid to Abu Sayyaf gunmen for the release of the original 21 hostages abducted from the Malaysian island of Sipadan, a source with access to Malaysian intelligence reports said yesterday.

The source said that a Chinese-based drug ring with ties to the Abu Sayyaf was behind the abduction on April 23. Not all of the P400 million ($9.5 million), which includes P245 million of ransom payments confirmed recently by military, has reached the Abu Sayyaf, since certain groups took "cuts" along the way, according to the source.

A certain businessman involved in drug activities in Mindanao, who is code-named "Golden Dragon" by the notorious 14K drug syndicate, received the largest cut, said the source, who has close links to the intelligence community.

The alleged P400 million is circulating in Sulu, Basilan and even Zamboanga, he told the INQUIRER. He added that based on intelligence reports, only a third of the ransom money would ultimately reach the kidnappers.

Malaysian emissaries, said the source, conducted direct negotiations with Zamboanga-based businessman Lepeng Wee and Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan for the hostages' release. Money first changed hands when Abu Sayyaf leader Galib Andang, alias Commander Robot, and his group visited Tan in the provincial capitol in late May, the source alleged.

According to the source, the first payment amounted to around P40 million, although it was not clear how much Commander Robot actually received at the time. Robot, according to the source, worked for the Tan household in his teens.

The source said that the release of the remaining hostages was being delayed by a disagreement among three camps on how the release should take place without it appearing that ransom had been paid.

Camps?

He identified the camps as those of Tan, chief government negotiator Robert Aventajado and Wee, who has helped win the freedom of several captives. One payment was allegedly made for the release of the Malaysian hostages through a rich Chinese-Malaysian businessman in mid-June, around the time that Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar visited Manila.

When asked then about paying ransom, Syed Hamid said his government was not ruling the possibility out "in exceptional circumstances." Private emissaries of European countries also paid money for the release of their nationals, said the source. France, Germany and Finland have repeatedly stated that they have not and will not pay ransom.

Drug lord

According to the source, the root of the Sipadan abduction was a disagreement over a huge sum of money between a powerful Chinese-Malaysian drug lord and another Malaysian businessman also involved in drug operations. The kidnapping of the nine Malaysians in the group, one of whom was allegedly a part of the drug dispute, was an act of revenge by the drug lord, the source said.

A non-Filipino group was hired to stage the abduction at the Sipadan resort which is owned by a son of a top Malaysian politician, said the source. For reasons that are unclear, this group apparently made arrangements with the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu to deliver the hostages to them.

Bonus

The source's claims contradict earlier reports that the hostage-taking was an Abu Sayyaf ploy to divert military attention from a separate hostage crisis in Basilan and to draw heat away from the Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf, which was at the time under assault by government troops.

According to these earlier reports, which were based on interviews with Abu Sayyaf members and contacts, the kidnappers were planning to seize up to 100 foreigners, preferably Americans. But the source said yesterday that money was the name of the game from the start. He told the INQUIRER yesterday that the Europeans who were abducted were a "bonus" on top of the Malaysians.

On Monday, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes confirmed reports that P245 million had been paid in exchange for six Malaysians, five Filipinos and a German woman earlier freed despite Manila's policy against ransom payments.

First payment

When the first ransom payment was made, according to the source, Aventajado had been newly appointed to replace Nur Misuari, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, as the government's chief negotiator. On May 23, when Aventajado was first supposed to meet the five Abu Sayyaf leaders, they did not show up, reportedly because they were wary of the tight police cordon that was in place to secure the negotiator.

But the source said that instead of meeting the presidential envoy, Robot, Mujib Susukan and about a hundred of their men went to meet Tan in the town hall of Patikul. Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora said that some foreign groups had simply broken their own promises not to pay ransom, citing money paid by Der Spiegel magazine in exchange for the release of journalist Andreas Lorenz.

The magazine later reported that the ransom was given to an Abu Sayyaf contact at Tan's home. While confirming that the foreign group who secured Lorenz's release went to his house, Tan has denied any knowledge of money changing hands. Zamora did not deny that certain local government officials in Sulu could be involved in the payment of ransom.

Little Caesars

Aventajado told the INQUIRER in a phone interview yesterday that his job as chief negotiator was complicated by the agenda of various negotiators and emissaries. "My problem is that I am working with little Caesars with their own little agenda," he said, without naming anyone. He complained that he was finding it difficult to get certain negotiators and emissaries to "toe the line." He said he had a long talk with feuding Malaysian envoys Tuesday night and reminded them that they had to stay focused on the goal of freeing the hostages.

Aventajado repeated an earlier remark that he was in a no-win situation. "If you don't succeed (in releasing the hostages), you are branded incompetent. If you succeed, you are accused of paying ransom," he said in Filipino. But he said criticisms would not affect his efforts to resolve the crisis, again promising results by the end of the month. "This will be over in two weeks' time," he repeated.

Secret arrival

An aide of Libyan mediator Rajab Azzarouq arrived in Jolo secretly on Tuesday, according to Agence France Presse. The aide, Mohamad Ismail, was fetched from a ferry by armed men and escorted out of town, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

Local authorities said they had no advance warning of Ismail's visit and only learned about it later. Lebanon has reportedly accepted an offer from Libya to pay $25 million for all the hostages, with priority given to Franco-Lebanese captive Marie Moarbes. However, Aventajado had said the governments would have to coordinate with him over any such agreement.

Azzarouq has denied that Libya made the $25-million offer. Yesterday, he called the new report of the Abu Sayyaf demand "incredible." Officials earlier said the government was sticking to its no-ransom policy but that other parties could not be prevented from paying ransom.

$25-M demand confirmed

The gunmen are demanding $25-million ransom for the release of all the hostages, government intelligence sources confirmed yesterday. The five Abu Sayyaf leaders agreed on the figure although it is not clear whether they expect the whole amount to be paid at once or in stages. The group is now discussing how the money will be delivered to them, the sources said.

The proposed $25 million will cover the remaining three Malaysians, two Filipinos, two Germans, two French, two South Africans and the Franco-Lebanese woman seized from Sipadan. It will also cover three French television reporters who were seized by the Abu Sayyaf when they went to their hideout on July 9 to interview the hostages.

In addition, the ransom will also cover 12 evangelists of the Jesus Miracle Crusade who have been in the Abu Sayyaf jungle hideout for more than a month, the sources said. Aventajado said the evangelists would not be considered hostages. Three construction workers, seized by an Abu Sayyaf faction last week are not covered by the $25-million ransom demand, the sources said.

Leading to war

In a phone interview, Governor Tan seemed resigned to the likelihood that war is coming to his province. "I'm sure it's all leading up to that," Tan said in a telephone interview. "Otherwise, we won't see an end to things we are witnessing now."

Tan said that while the safety of the hostages is the government's immediate concern, "I'm sure that the military and police authorities can see that going after the Abu Sayyaf is (eventually) a necessity." What he and other local officials fear is a military or police assault against the Abu Sayyaf after the hostage crisis is over.

"The government may forget us after hostages have been released," Tan said. "Although we wish to address the hostage problem, we hope that the national government will not forget that Sulu is not the Abu Sayyaf and there are people there who need the attention of government," he said.

Hate, fear and guns

Tan said the peace and order problem of Sulu dated back to martial law and fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels then led by the Moro National Liberation Front. "There was so much fear and hatred and that drove people to guns," he said.

He hopes to persuade rival political clans to sign peace pacts in the interest of peace and order. The governor also plans to make a number of recommendations when President Estrada presides over a meeting this week of the Mindanao Coordinating Council in Davao City.

Among these are the setting up of more schools, the establishment of a fishery complex and the immediate completion of unfinished government projects in Sulu.

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