MANILA, December 22, 2010 (AFP) – Two Malaysian seaweed farmers seized on Borneo in February by gunmen linked to Islamist militants have been freed unharmed across the sea in the southern Philippines, Philippine police said Wednesday.
Police found Chen Yui Chung, 48 and Lai Wong Chun, 46, in Bongao, the capital of the Tawi-Tawi island group near Malaysian Borneo late Tuesday, national police chief Raul Bacalzo told reporters in Manila.
“I am pleased to announce the successful rescue of two Malaysian kidnap victims in Tawi-Tawi yesterday,” Bacalzo said in a statement.
Police picked up the two on the Bongao coast after days of surveillance during which they monitored the movement of the kidnappers, said Bacalzo, who described the suspects as Malaysians with links to local Islamist militants.
“At the opportune time when troops launched the rescue, the kidnappers fled leaving behind their captives,” he added.
“The victims had been held captive since February 2010 by Malaysian bandits with ties to the local Abu Sayyaf terrorist group,” Bacalzo said.
The Malaysian government said the two rescued men have been turned over to its Manila mission and were expected to fly to Sabah state on Christmas Eve.
A Malaysian foreign ministry statement said the two had been held captive by an “unidentified group” in the southern Philippines, and thanked the Manila government for its help in securing their freedom.
“The Ministry hopes they and their respective families will be able to resume normal life after enduring the traumatic and painful episode,” it added.
The southern Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf was allegedly set up in the early 1990s with seed funds put up by Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, who once operated an Arab charity in the Philippines.
The victims told Philippine police they were moved to several locations in Malaysia and the southern Philippines during more than 10 months in captivity.
Malaysia said the two were seized at a seaweed farm near the fishing town of Semporna in Sabah on February 7.
At the time Malaysian authorities suggested the incident was a payroll robbery attempt but the victims were taken at a time when the farm could not produce any money.
The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for most of the Philippines’ deadliest insurgent attacks and a 2000 cross-border raid on Malaysia’s Sipadan island, when 21 mostly Western holidaymakers were seized and taken to the Philippines.
The following year the hostages were ransomed off for millions of dollars to Libya, which sent representatives to the Philippines to negotiate their release.