Release of kidnapped French journalists delayed amid factional fighting

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New York, September 11, 2000 — The release of two France 2 television journalists, cameraman Jean-Jacques Le Garrec and sound engineer Roland Madura, has been delayed due to factional fighting within the ranks of the Philippine rebel group that kidnapped them, according to news reports.

“CPJ is extremely worried about the safety of Madura and Le Garrec in light of the increasingly volatile situation on the ground in Jolo,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ.

The France 2 team was abducted July 9 on the southern Philippine island of Jolo. They were covering a hostage crisis that began with the April 23 kidnapping of 21 people from a Malaysian diving resort by a self-described Muslim separatist rebel organization called the Abu Sayyaf. One of the team, reporter Maryse Burgot, was freed on August 27. The last of the Western tourists were released on Saturday, due in large part to a deal brokered by Libya.

Rebel commander Galib Andang, known as Commander Robot, told a negotiator on September 10 that he was delaying the release of the journalists because he could not guarantee their safety, according to news reports. Over the weekend, some of Andang’s men were reportedly killed when gun battles erupted between his group and another Abu Sayyaf faction. He is now said to be planning a retaliatory attack.

Libyan negotiators initially crafted a ransom deal that did not include the France 2 team. That deal fell through in mid-August, when Philippine president Joseph Estrada insisted that any deal include all Western hostages. Libyan envoy Rajab Azzarouq told Reuters today that “an agreement has been reached regarding [the French journalists] and they will be released very soon.”

News reports have cited sources close to the negotiators saying that millions of dollars in ransom money have been paid to the Abu Sayyaf, a loose association of several hundred rebels who say they are fighting for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

Libyan negotiators claim the money will be spent on social development projects, and will not go directly to the rebels. However, the latest clashes among the rebel factions reportedly were sparked by disputes over ransom money.