From SEASIA-L@LIST.MSU.EDU Sun Jun 4 08:07:34 2000
Date: Sun, 4 Jun 2000 11:37:42 +0800
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From: E Phillip Lim <webxity@CYBERWAY.COM.SG>
Subject: Fwd: PH: Hostage Crisis: Manila riled by KL's direct talks with rebels

Manila riled by KL's direct talks with rebels

By Luz Baguioro, The Straits Times, 21 May 2000

Malaysia says the Abu Sayyaf wants its participation, while Philippine officials believe it could divide negotiations to free the hostages

MANILA—The Philippines' already prickly relations with Malaysia have suffered further strain on reports that the Malaysian envoy to the Philippines held direct talks with the extremist Abu Sayyaf kidnappers.

Malaysian Ambassador Mohamad Arshad Manzoor Hussain met four commanders of the rebel group on Thursday, in the hinterlands of the southern Philippine island of Jolo, where a group of 21 mostly foreign hostages are held, Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said.

Datuk Syed Hamid said Malaysia would continue to have discussions with the kidnappers since they are interested for us to participate in this crisis.

The incident has been considered a slap on the face of Manila, which has been under intense international pressure to bring about an end to the month-old kidnap crisis.

Philippine officials were evidently furious upon learning about the unilateral talks, with some suggesting the filing of a formal protest.

We understand why Malaysia has such a large interest in this matter but if you ask us if you agree with these unilateral efforts, naturally we do not agree with them, chief presidential aide Ronaldo Zamora said.

According to him, Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon gave the Malaysian envoy a cautionary warning after he was informed of his plans but stressed he did not give his approval.

Mr Zamora warned that by dealing directly with the Abu Sayyaf, which he described previously as a band of gangsters, Malaysia was jeopardising government-led efforts to secure the freedom of the hostages.

If you do this, you will be overwhelmed by the Abu Sayyaf, they will be dividing the negotiations. In fact, we discourage this kind of unilateral activity because it messes up the negotiation.

Each country will negotiate for their own. Before you know it, there will be four or five negotiators. It will raise the price, it will increase the effort, everything will be harder, Mr Zamora said.

Nine Malaysians are among the hostages who were brought to Jolo after they were abducted from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan on April 23.

The captives also include three Germans, two French nationals, two Finns, two South Africans, two Filipinos and a Lebanese woman.

Mr Siazon said, earlier this week, that the Abu Sayyaf had demanded US$2 million (S$3.4 million) to free ailing German tourist Renate Wallert but that the government asked them for a package deal for the release of all the hostages.

Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado said envoys from other countries with captive nationals in Jolo had complained to the Philippine government about Kuala Lumpur's move.

Mr Abdusakur Tan, the governor of Sulu province, which includes Jolo, said his administration was considering filing a protest against Malaysia's action which he said also caused a security scare.

But Philippine President Joseph Estrada's press secretary, Mr Ricardo Puno, said in a statement later yesterday that the meeting between Mr Mohamad Arshad and the Abu Sayyaf hostage-takers did not violate protocol, nor did it hamper the negotiations.

This is for humanitarian purposes. It will not affect the negotiations one way or the other, Mr Puno said, adding that there is no reason for Manila to file a diplomatic protest.