As hostage crisis drags on, release of three French journalists delayed

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Previous CPJ coverage of the hostage crisis in Jolo:

August 16, 2000 – French journalists may be released tomorrow

July 31, 2000 – Journalists leave Jolo as hostage crisis continues

July 27, 2000 – Rebel group frees German reporter; five other journalists still held hostage

New York, August 17, 2000
— The expected release today of three French journalists and nine Western hostages held by Muslim separatist rebels on the southern island of Jolo has been postponed.

While Philippine government statements suggested that the delay was due to bad weather that prevented travel to and from Jolo, CPJ sources in the Philippines and international news reports concurred that the release was postponed over concerns that the French journalists were not included in a deal between Abu Sayyaf and the Philippine government, brokered in part by former Libyan ambassador Abdul Rajab Azzarouq.

Libya has played a prominent role in negotiations for the release of the Western hostages and is believed to be offering millions of dollars for their release. Abu Sayyaf is currently holding around 30 hostages in total, according to press estimates.

Philippine president Joseph Estrada has reportedly ordered the government negotiating team to ensure that reporter Maryse Burgot, cameraman Jean-Jacques Le Garrec, and sound engineer Roland Madura, all of France 2 Broadcasting, be released along with the other hostages.

The France 2 team was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf rebels on July 9, while reporting on the hostage crisis that began April 23 with the abduction of 21 people from a Malaysian diving resort. Of the original 21 kidnapped, 13 remain — including nine Westerners, three Malaysians, and one Filipino. Abu Sayyaf commander Galib Andang had demanded P100 million (approximately US$2.2 million) for the journalists, according to news reports, but France 2 has not commented on whether the company has received any ransom demands. The Abu Sayyaf have received a total of US$5.5 million in ransom payments for the hostages released so far, according to The Associated Press.

Libyan envoy Azzarouq denied news reports that Libya is paying US$25 million in ransom for the release of the Western hostages. However, CPJ sources claimed that Libya’s initial refusal to pay ransom for the French journalists had held up the deal. Azzarouq has now agreed to arrange for the journalists’ release, according to a local source.

The possibility that the guerrillas might try to keep some hostages to use as human shields against an anticipated assault by the Philippine military has been mentioned by Reuters and local sources. The rebels have reportedly used their ransom money to buy arms and recruit more men to strengthen their defenses.

CPJ has documented the following kidnappings of journalists on Jolo since June 1:

  • On June 2, ten foreign journalists were held for 10 hours until they pooled together their own funds to pay a US$25,000 ransom.
  • On July 2, Der Spiegel reporter Andreas Lorenz was kidnapped by a splinter faction of the Abu Sayyaf. Lorenz, who had been among the group held on June 2, was released on July 27 after the magazine paid a ransom.
  • On July 9, reporter Maryse Burgot, cameraman Jean-Jacques Le Garrec, and sound engineer Roland Madura of France 2 Broadcasting were abducted. The Philippine government is currently negotiating their release.
  • On July 24, two Filipino journalists, ABS-CBN cameraman Val Cuenca and researcher/writer Maan Macapagal, were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas. They were released on Saturday, July 29, reportedly after the intervention of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulon Sajiron, whose nephew’s faction had kidnapped them.