MANILA, Philippines – A police official on Tuesday denied that authorities have received reports that the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) wanted to take abducted Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani from the hands of terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in an effort to boost the candidacy of its leader, Nur Misuari.
"Wala po tayong nakukuha na report na ganyan. Basta't ang purpose ng MNLF is to recover peacefully at hangga't maaari ay ma-release ang mga bihag. Bali dumating nga sa puntong nagpagitan na sila at 'di na napigilan," said Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, Sulu provincial police commander.
Misuari is running for governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the May elections as an independent against ARMM officer-in-charge Mujiv Hataman of the Liberal Party and former Sultan Kudarat Rep. Pakung Mangudadatu of the United Nationalist Alliance.
At least 22 men, 14 from Abu Sayyaf side and 8 from MNLF, died following a clash in Sulu province on Sunday morning. The violence lingered until Monday, but Freyra said the situation has already eased.
The firefight in Patikul town was triggered by the failed negotiations to free Atyani between the MNLF band, reportedly led by Misuari loyalist Ustadz Habier Malik, and the terrorist group.
This prompted the MNLF, a group of former Muslim rebels who have made peace with the government, to attack jungle bases of the Abu Sayyaf to free Jordanian.
The Jordanian national has been under ASG's custody since June last year. He was abducted with two other Filipino crewmen, Ramel Vela and Roland Letrero. The two Filipinos who were released by their captors on Saturday.
Army spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos, meanwhile, said the military was not involved in the rescue bid but sent troops to help evacuate residents who fled from the area and to prevent the fighting from spreading.
About 60 families in the Patikul area were relocated temporarily because of the clash, he said.
Jolo island in the Philippine south is a stronghold for the Abu Sayyaf rebels who are notorious for kidnappings and some times killing captives.
The militants are also holding an Australian, one Swiss, one Dutch and one Japanese person on Jolo and nearby Basilan islands. – with Agence France-Presse