Hostages to a fortune

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 12:00am

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's new image as a liberator of hostages is one he should enjoy for the very short time it lasts. The intervention of the Libyan Government has certainly rescued the hostages in the Philippines from a lingering and unpleasant imprisonment, and possibly a worse fate. But the tactics used can only exacerbate an already grave situation.

It is ironic for the leader of a former 'rogue state' to become the saviour of victims of a guerilla group he helped start. The gratitude of the countries whose nationals were held is no doubt tempered by that knowledge. Faced with a movement that has shown many examples of ruthlessness and a Manila Government that makes a virtue out of incompetence, they had a choice between accepting a mediator prepared to hand over money or perhaps abandoning the victims to execution.

Ten years ago, the head of the Abu Sayyaf group went to Tripoli to study Islamic teachings and returned calling for a jihad, or holy war, against Christians on southern Mindanao. The group's record of kidnappings, grenade attacks, bombings and bank robberies gave it the dubious distinction of being among the most violent rebel groups around.

Kidnapping is by far the most lucrative means to fund the purchase of M16 rifles, grenade launchers and other arms. Thanks to Libya's latest contribution, the rebels are reported to have another new speedboat, which should be useful in snatching more innocent holidaymakers from diving resorts.

Libya insists money will only go to development aid for impoverished areas. But the ends should not be allowed to justify the means in terrorism.

If Colonel Gaddafi was serious about helping his Muslim brothers, he should try to use his influence to achieve a peaceful political settlement of the communal and religious conflicts that underpin poverty in the region.