KUALA LUMPUR - Kidnappers based in the southern Philippines have demanded $11.25 million in ransom for a Chinese tourist abducted from a Malaysian dive resort, a senior minister said Thursday.
Malaysian Home Minister Zahid Hamidi told AFP the family of Gao Huayun, who was kidnapped by gunmen on April 2 along with a Filipino resort worker, are negotiating with her abductors through an intermediary.
"The kidnappers have asked for 36.4 million ringgit ($11.25 million). Gao's family has appointed someone to negotiate for her safe release," said Zahid, whose ministry handles internal security and law enforcement.
"We hope this case can be settled as soon as possible."
Gao, who is 29, and resort worker Marcy Dayawan, 40, were taken from the Singamata Reef Resort in Malaysia's Borneo island state of Sabah in a late-night raid by a group of gunmen.
The area is famed for its world-class scuba diving but also notorious for lawlessness and kidnappings blamed on bandits from the Muslim southern Philippines.
The Philippine military has said the Abu Sayyaf, a small band of Islamic militants infamous for kidnappings for ransom, are the prime suspects.
The abductors are believed to be affiliated with Abu Sayyaf "sub-commander" Murphy Ambang Ladjia, who was involved in the spectacular kidnapping of 21 people from another Sabah diving resort in 2000.
Twenty of those hostages -- many of whom were foreign tourists -- were released within five months, reportedly after hefty ransoms were paid.
A final Filipino captive was held until 2003.
Malaysia said at the weekend that Gao's family in China had been contacted by telephone by her kidnappers.
The kidnapping has placed additional strain on China-Malaysia relations, already tested over the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
The plane vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard -- two-thirds of them Chinese -- and Chinese relatives of passengers have harshly accused Malaysian authorities of ineptitude and a cover-up in the failure to find the jet.
An Australian-led effort now searching in the remote Indian Ocean is seeking to pinpoint the source of underwater signals believed to be from the plane's data recorders.
China pressed Malaysia last week to rescue Gao and ensure the safety of Chinese nationals.
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