Muslim militants abduct two Filipino journalists; four kidnapped foreign journalists still in captivity

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New York, July 24, 2000 — Two journalists from ABS-CBN, the largest television network in the Philippines, were kidnapped today near the town of Patikul on the island of Jolo.

Cameraman Val Cuenca and researcher/writer Maan Macapagal were abducted by four armed men believed to be with the rebel group Abu Sayyaf, according to international news reports.

Abu Sayyaf is a loose association of separatist Muslim guerrillas based on Jolo. Various Abu Sayyaf factions are believed to be holding more than 30 hostages, including four foreign journalists. The crisis began with the abduction of 21 tourists from a resort on the nearby Malaysian island of Sipadan.

The two Filipino journalists were apparently on Jolo to cover the hostage crisis. According to their driver, Hassan Igasan, they were returning from an interview with Abu Sayyaf commander Radulon Sajiron when their vehicle was stopped by four men, who commandeered the car for a short distance and then took them into the jungle.

Igasan reported the incident to Sajiron, who apparently sent his own men on an unsuccessful search for the missing journalists. Sajiron is one of five commanders of the Abu Sayyaf; he controls the territory around Patikul town.

The police are treating the incident as a forced abduction, according to reports. ABS-CBN has not yet received any demands from the kidnappers, according to a press release that the network issued this morning.

Foreshadowing the kidnapping, an AFP report filed early July 24 quoted local sources close to the hostage crisis saying that since no foreign journalists remained on the island, rebels might try to kidnap local journalists.

In June, ten foreign journalists, including Der Spiegel reporter Andreas Lorenz, were held briefly by Abu Sayyaf rebels but were released when they paid a US$25,000 ransom. According to Volker Albers of the German network RTL TV, who was with the group, the rebels demanded the ransom as a “gift” in exchange for permission to interview the hostages. The journalists paid the ransom but declined the interview and left the area after ten hours of captivity, without meeting the hostages.

On July 2, Lorenz was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf rebels in the same area. Early reports said Philippine police had sighted him in Sajiron’s camp. Today, however, his editors told CPJ that a splinter faction of Abu Sayyaf is holding him captive.

On July 9, three French reporters from the France 2 television network were abducted when they tried to obtain interviews with the hostages, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Although one of the reporters called Philippine government negotiators to confirm the group’s kidnapping by Abu Sayyaf, CPJ has no information about their current whereabouts.