Philippine soldiers have been sent to a remote southern island where suspected Islamic militants are thought to be holding two women - a Chinese tourist and a Filipino worker - who were kidnapped from a resort in neighbouring Malaysia, the military said yesterday.
Seven gunmen are believed to have escaped in a speedboat with tourist Gao Huayun , 29, from Shanghai, and Filipino resort worker Marcy Dayawan, 40, said Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, the armed forces spokesman.
The women were kidnapped from a diving resort in Malaysia's Sabah state on Wednesday and are thought to have been taken to the remote Tawi-Tawi islands in the southern Philippines.
The Abu Sayyaf, a small band of militants known for kidnappings for ransom, are the main suspects in the abductions.
"What is important is to block them [from fleeing] and find them," Zagala said. Naval forces, including marines, had been sent to one of the islands.
The hostages are believed to have been taken to Simunul, a mostly-Muslim town of about 35,000 people living on two tiny islands more than 1,000 kilometres from Manila, 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 21people from another Sabah resort in 2000, he said.
All but one of those hostages were released within five months - reportedly after large ransoms were paid. The final Filipino captive was set free only in 2003.
Earlier, police suggested the gunmen in the latest kidnapping may have had help. "Anyone wanting to enter the resort area needed to be brought or let in by [hotel] staff," Police Commissioner Hamza Taib said
Last year, suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped a Taiwanese couple on holiday at a Sabah resort. The husband was killed during the abduction. His wife, Evelyn Chang An-wei, was found alive a month later on the main Sulu island of Jolo.
Gene Yu, a former United States army officer who helped with Chang's release last year, told the
South China Morning Post Beijing would have to seek Manila's help in rescuing the women. "Beijing needs to make a special request to the Philippine president to assign the best security unit they have to lead the case ... That's probably the best chance they have."
The militants might want to use the foreign hostage as a human shield, he said. "The Filipinos decreed no foreigner may be wounded or killed as collateral damage during military operations, so Abu Sayyaf keep foreign hostages to prevent raids."