By Ardi Wirdana
Despite the desperate pleas by families of the 10 Indonesians taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines, the Indonesian government insists that it will not be giving in to their group’s demand of a ransom of Rp 15 billion (US$1.14 million).
Last month, militants from the Abu Sayyaf group hijacked the Indonesian-flagged tugboat, Adnan 12, as it was heading towards the Philippines from Banjarmasin, Indonesia. The group, reportedly linked to Al-Qaeda, has since taken 10 of the crew members hostage, all of whom are Indonesian nationals.
Though latest reports suggest that all 10 hostages are well and in good condition, families of the hostages remain highly concerned because the terrorist group, which has had a major influence on other terrorist groups in the region, has been notorious for carrying out brutal acts such as kidnapping, beheadings and bombings.
It had been reported that the terrorist group is asking for a payment of 50 million pesos (US$ 1 million) in return for the release of the hostages. The group had set 8 April as the second deadline, after an earlier deadline had been ignored by the shipping company.
The second deadline was again not met by the ship company. Moreover, the Indonesian government stressed that it did not wish to assist, or be involved, in any form of ransom payment for the release of its citizens.
The Indonesian government has maintained that diplomacy is the best policy. It is adopting a “wait and see” approach, which it said was “the best strategy” to take for the time being.
The government has been urged by some parties to take a more significant step to help free the hostages, but it insisted that there is very little it can do.
The hostages could be released either by force or by negotiations. However, the government said that it is not in a position to carry out either measures directly.
As far as negotiations are concerned, the government is unable to intervene, as all direct talks with Abu Sayyaf are conducted by the Philippine government and shipping company, Patria Maritime Lines, which owns the hijacked ship.
A deradicalised terrorism convict by the name of Umar Patek, who was a former leader in the Abu Sayyaf group, has offered his services to help the government negotiate with his former associates. Umar, who was involved in the 2002 Bali bomb attack, warned that negotiations carried out by Philippine officials are fruitless.
“I know them well. Based on a feeling of humanity, I am offering myself to help the government because the appeal by the Indonesian government through the help of the Philippine government will not be effective. Abu Sayyaf sees the Philippines as an enemy,” Umar told Kompas recently.
The offer, however, was turned down by the government, which maintained that they wish to continue negotiating through government channels.
One of the results of the negotiations with Abu Sayyaf is the demand is the reported demand of 50 million peso in return for the release of the hostages.
The Indonesian government, however, has refused to comply with demand, with the Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi saying simply that “the government is not allowed” to do so. The Chief Security Minister Luhut B. Pandjaitan said whether the ransom request will be fulfilled or not is a decision to be made by the shipping firm, not the government.
Military waiting for green light
Umar’s prediction of ineffective negotiation by the Philippine government has been proven right.
The negotiations with Abu Sayyaf came to a dead end and the Philippine government recently resorted to military action in its efforts to free the hostages.
Latest reports on Tuesday (12 April), revealed that as many as 18 Philippine soldiers were killed in a 10-hour gunfight with the Abu Sayyaf group, in the southern part of the country last weekend.
At least five members of the terror group also died in the battle. All 10 Indonesian hostages are safe because they were in a different area.
Indonesia has prepared for such eventuality by having a special force on standby, but it cannot launch any attack without permission from Manila.
The Indonesian military’s Quick Reaction Strike Force has been on standby in the Tarakan border area in North Kalimantan for the last few weeks. The special force, which consists of 500 personnel, has been involved in a training at the border focusing on hostage release simulations on land and at sea.
The government said that although it is able to see and locate the position of the ship carrying the 10 Indonesian hostages and were ready to strike at any time, it would respect Philippine sovereignty.
“We already know in detail, and we already know where they are. We respect the Philippine government and hope that (the hostages) can be released soon,” Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung told local media recently.
Despite losing ten of their soldiers in the battle against Abu Sayyaf, the Philippine military, according to Indonesia’s military chief, is still able to deal with the terrorist group on its own and has not accepted Indonesia’s offer of help.
The Indonesian military continues to wait for a call and authorisation to strike, and has offered to provide the Philippines with any help, including personnel and weaponry, to release the hostages and take down Abu Sayyaf.