RP to help KL on Sabah kidnapping

President Arroyo has pledged her government’s help in tracking down the gunmen who snatched six Filipino and Indonesian workers from a Malaysian resort on Borneo island last weekend.

Malaysia’s national police chief, meanwhile, said yesterday the kidnappers were local bandits who may have had foreign help.

Mrs. Arroyo said she agreed with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to "close ranks" against the kidnappers.

"We are treating this as a crime leveled against the Philippines and Malaysia. Filipinos and Malaysians are victims and the incident breaches our common ramparts of security," she said.

Malaysia has ruled out suspicions that the Abu Sayyaf were involved in Sunday’s raid, with police saying it was likely carried out by local criminals or "pirates" seeking ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf has carried out at least two raids on Malaysian resorts since April 2000.

Yesterday, Malaysia’s national police chief Norian Mai traveled to the remote region close to Malaysia’s borders with the southern Philippines and Indonesia’s chunk of Borneo, where he was briefed before visiting the kidnapping site near tiny Lahad Datu town.

"They are local bandits," Norian said of the kidnappers. "But we do not rule out the possibility that there is some cooperation between the gunmen and foreign groups," he told reporters at the site.

He did not identify the foreign groups.

Manila has sent Philippine Navy gunboats to help in the search for the kidnappers and their victims. Troops in the southern Philippines were also put on alert.

"Our naval officers are coordinating with the Sabah authorities. A joint search is focused along our common southwestern seas and border areas," Mrs. Arroyo said. "We will continue to network intelligence and operations to close the dragnet."

She said the incident proved that countries in the region must work closely to thwart terrorism and cross-border crime.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo ordered tighter security at a detention center in Camp Crame, where top terror suspects are being held, following a hostage fiasco that left three police officers dead and an Abu Sayyaf inmate dead.

"Greater discipline and proactive measures are in order," Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement.

Critics have blamed lax security for an attempted prison break on Tuesday by one of several Abu Sayyaf bandits held at Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police.

Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, a convicted member of the Jemaah Islamiyah regional terrorist network, escaped with two Abu Sayyaf men from the same prison on July 14.

Interior Secretary Jose Lina said the remaining detainees at the prison would be moved to a more secure facility. He did not give details or timetables.

He said the police will recruit an extra 500 jail guards.

Authorities in Malaysia have ruled out Abu Sayyaf involvement in the kidnapping because the victims were poor.

The group is known mainly for kidnapping foreigners and Christians in Mindanao and then holding them for hefty ransom payments. They have beheaded poor hostages who could not pay ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf has been loosely linked to the al-Qaeda network of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden by Washington and Manila.

About 1,000 US troops were deployed on the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Basilan last year to train Filipino soldiers. The two countries plan to hold a second round of exercises later this year in Sulu, where the gang also operates. — AFP, AP, Marichu Villanueva











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