There is a nasty situation in the Southern Philippines.

The AbuSayyaf, a “militant” group associated with AlQaeda, has kidnapped some International Red Cross workers who were inspecting a local prison as a humanitarian gesture.Despite government troops pulling back to comply with demands, the group has now increased their demands, threatening to behead one of the workers if their newest demands are not met.

One of the inspectors is from the Philippines, but the other two are Swiss and Italian in nationality, which is the big problem.

Kidnappings have gone up recently here in the Philippines, mainly because outside funding has been cut to various militant groups. So to get money, they are resorting to kidnappings.

All the militant groups kidnap, including the local communists, but usually the kidnapping is of a local businessman (or a foreign businessman),

Teresita Ang-See, founding chairman of the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order, said a total of 40 kidnap-for-ransom incidents were recorded nationwide from January to March this year or half the figure reported in 2008….

She said most of the kidnap victims were businessmen. Of the 40 kidnap victims between January and March, Indians, Koreans, and Chinese comprised two each. An Italian, a Pakistani and a Sri Lankan were also among the victims.

But the problem in the south is complicated by tribal loyalties and religion, because the local Muslim tribes want autonomy, and a recent agreement with the government fell through because it essentially disenfranchised the Christian tribes and immigrants, many of whom either predate the Muslims or have lived there for generations, objected to the agreement.

Last Christmas, after the agreement fell through, some “rogue” groups of the MILF attacked local Christian towns and villages, causing 200 thousand to flee. The army of course has hit back, but the MILF is refusing to turn in the rogue commanders, and so there has been some nasty fighting.

There are still several Philippine teachers in captivity by an unknown group in Mindanao,and although families usually pay up (as they did when a local reporteress was kidnapped and her TV station refused to pay ransom), history shows that one can get even bigger ransoms if one nabs a foreign NGO worker. Several huge ransoms have been paid for the release of several Italian priests (a fact denied with a straight face by the Italians, of course).

So the kidnapping of the three Red Cross workers has dollar signs all over it.

From StrategyPage:

On Jolo, the army has cut off supplies to the village where the three Red Cross captives are being held. The kidnappers and their captives are surrounded, and the army wants to free the captives before the unstable Abu Sayyaf kidnappers kill them. Abu Sayyaf wants a large (multi-million dollar) ransom, and the Red Cross is willing to facilitate that, but the government refuses to allow it. The cash would just go to fund more banditry and terrorists.

An earlier agreement to pull back in exchange for one hostage being released was broken by the gang, and the military is refusing to cave into threats to behead one of the workers if they don’t pull back completely. since furthur pull back would endanger many locals.

It should be noted that local Muslim leaders and many of the MILF (who are trying to renegotiate with the government) are aghast at the kidnapping, if for no other reason that they and their people will be the ones to suffer in a renewed outbreak of war if things go wrong.

To complicate things, of course, the International Red Cross, the Pope, and various European countries are pressuring the Philippine government to give in, hoping that negotiations (read a large ransom) will get their people home safe and sound.

Nothing like a gruesome beheading to get one’s way in the world.

On the other hand, with bombs going off daily in the south, the Philippine government is also under pressure not to reward a bunch of thugs who kidnap and terrorize locals.

After all, the more money they get, the more bombs they can make and the more “militants” they can hire to bomb ferries, malls, fiestas, and churches.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the northern Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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