Rebels join army in search for abducted Italian missionary
Raissa Robles in Manila
Muslim separatists yesterday joined a massive search for an Italian priest allegedly abducted by one of their renegade commanders in the southern Philippines.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) and the military said the abduction of Father Giancarlo Bossi, 57, from a coastal village in Zamboanga, in Sibugay province, on Sunday would not sour peace negotiations.
Armed forces chief-of-staff General Hermogenes Esperon said: 'The peace talks are so secure ... so I think there would be no problem' despite the kidnapping. Chief rebel peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal agreed.
The determination to continue co-operating followed a forum on Saturday when both sides faced each other for the first time.
Army colonels and their rebel counterparts met in Cotabato City 'to further explore the peace process and the ceasefire mechanism', Mr Iqbal said.
Mr Iqbal said initial reports identified the kidnapper as former separatist commander Abdusalam Akiddin, who goes by the pseudonym Commander Kiddie.
'Commander Kiddie is definitely not with the Milf but a member of the [al-Qaeda-linked] Abu Sayyaf operating in Zamboanga peninsula,' Mr Iqbal said.
The priest's abduction is an embarrassment to the government, coming ahead of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Rome visit to seek the blessing of Pope Benedict.
Hours after the snatching of Father Bossi, a missionary of the Rome-based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, the Pope condemned all abductions and pleaded for the release of all captives.
The abduction also came three days after the United States embassy in Manila paid US$10 million to four former Abu Sayyaf members for betraying their chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and his deputy Abu Solaiman. Both men were killed in separate military encounters.