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Army firm, won’t stop drive against Abu Sayyaf
By Manolo B. Jara September 24, 2016
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MANILA: The military on Friday rejected the request of a top Moro rebel leader to stop its “search and destroy” operation against members of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf terror group, warning such move would allow them to escape from the dragnet it already established.

Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, the spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the request was made by Nur Misuari, the founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to enable him to negotiate for the release of more hostages held by the extremists.

“We rejected the request because we need to sustain our operation,” Padilla told DzBB radio in an interview.

“The Abu Sayyaf might use the suspension to flee from our operations in Sulu,” Padilla said, referring to the order of President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte to “eliminate” the extremists who gained notoriety by a spate of kidnap-for-ransom cases that were often marred by the beheading of their foreign and Filipino hostages.

However, Padilla added the military might give way if there were turnovers of released hostages to authorities.

Earlier, Secretary Delfin Lorenzana of the Department of National Defence disclosed that Misuari had requested the military to suspend their operations to enable him to negotiate for the release of more hostages from the Abu Sayyaf.

In the last few days, the extremists had released a total of seven foreign and Filipino hostages including Norwegian businessman Kjartan Sekkingstad who was abducted along with two Canadian nationals and their Filipina companion while holidaying in a posh island resort in Mindanao in late September 2015.

The government has welcomed Misuari’s offer and credited him for the release of the seven latest hostages like Sekkingstad who left on Thursday for Norway after almost a year of captivity in the jungles of Sulu.

But Lorenzana pointed out he would leave it to the military commanders to decide on the issue.

In a related development, the military announced the surrender of 21 Abu Sayyaf members, including their leaders, in the town of Sumisip in Sulu’s neighbouring island province of Basilan.

Colonel Thomas Cirilo Donato, an Army battalion commander assigned to Basilan, reported the extremists also yielded eight high-powered firearms like M16 rifles and a grenade launcher as well as two improvised shotguns.

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