Sailors freed by Abu Sayyaf 

Philippine marines claim credit for forcing the release of hostages. Source: Wikimedia

Three Indonesian men have been freed in the southern Philippines after being held by Abu Sayyaf for more than three months, the foreign minister in Jakarta told the media. 

The former hostages were undergoing medical checks in the province of Sulu, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.

Ferry Arifin, Muhammad Mabrur Dahri and Edy Suryono were among seven sailors who were kidnapped by militants in June. Two others were released earlier and two are still being held.

It was not announced if a ransom had been paid.

The Philippine media said an unnamed source with details of negotiations said money changed hands but the military and police said it was because of ongoing military pressure.

Major Filemon Tan, a spokesman for Western Mindanao Command, said the victims were released to members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Sulu.

Ten kidnap victims have been freed by Abu Sayyaf in the past two weeks. Tan said 12 hostages, including two Indonesians, five Malaysians, four Filipinos and a Dutch citizen, were still held by the extremist group.

The seven Indonesians were seized on June 20 in the southern Philippines while returning from Cagayan De Oro in the Philippines to Samarinda in Indonesian Borneo.

Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organisation for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

Manila launched an offensive against the group after two Canadians were beheaded earlier in the year.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called on other nations not to pay ransoms to discourage the group from carrying out more kidnappings. Observers say Abu Sayyaf has turned from an Islamist extremist group into an organised crime network.

Despite the development, presidential security adviser Jesus Dureza said the president, Rodrigo Duterte, would not change his stance against holding talks with Abu Sayyaf.

“The military operations against them will continue. We are also trying to avail the cooperation of the local MNLF and the local government of Sulu,” he told Radio dzBB.

“The stakeholders in the area want to do away with this plague because it has been affecting the whole province of Sulu. They are being viewed as a hostage area,” he said.