Hostages taken to Philippines' small island

Updated: 2014-04-05 12:11


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Armed forces deployed to help with hunt for Abu Sayyaf militants

Gunmen who kidnapped a Chinese tourist and a Filipino worker from a Malaysian resort have brought their captives to an island township in the Philippines' southernmost province, authorities said on Friday.

The kidnappers, believed to be Abu Sayyaf militants, brought the two women to Simunul in Tawi-Tawi province, Philippine presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said, citing a military report.

The women were seized late on Wednesday from the Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna district in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah. The resort is popular with Chinese tourists.

Malaysian authorities identified the hostages as Gao Huayuan, 29, from Shanghai, and Filipina hotel employee Marcy Dayawan, 40.

Philippine soldiers have been deployed to the southern islands to help with the hunt for the kidnappers, the military said on Friday.

Philippine armed forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said the Abu Sayyaf, a small band of militants infamous for kidnappings for ransom, are the prime suspects in the abductions.

He said seven gunmen aboard a white speedboat are believed to have taken the women from Sabah state across the maritime border to the remote Tawi-Tawi islands in the southern Philippines.

"What is important is to ... block them (from fleeing) and find them," Zagala said, adding that an undisclosed number of naval forces, including marines, had been sent to one of the islands.

Simunul is a majority-Muslim town of about 35,000 people more than 1,000 km from Manila, and is about 145 km from the resort where the two women were kidnapped, or about a day's boat ride.

Zagala said the kidnappers were believed to be affiliated with Abu Sayyaf "sub-commander" Murphy Ambang Ladjia, who was involved in a spectacular kidnapping of 21 people from another Sabah resort in 2000.

Twenty of those hostages - many of whom were Europeans and other foreign tourists - were released within five months, reportedly after hefty ransoms were paid. A final Filipino captive was held until 2003.

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian police said on Friday they had detained four people on Thursday evening for further investigation into the kidnapping.

The three men and a woman were without any documents.

"We are getting their statements and are continuing our investigations," local press The Star quoted Hamza Taib, the Sabah police commissioner, as saying.

Hamza said they had not yet gotten vital information which could help solve the case.

China's consulate in the Malaysian city of Kuching has mobilized staff to deal with the kidnapping and urged local authorities to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens.

The kidnapping was a reminder of the security threats in Sabah, a popular tourist destination a short boat ride from the southern Philippines, home to Muslim militants and kidnap gangs.

Pang Yuk Ming, assistant tourism, culture and environment minister of Sabah, said it could put the tourism industry in Sabah "in a bad spot", on top of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 on March 8, which has reduced the arrival of tourists from China, the state's biggest foreign market, New Straits Times quoted him as saying.