Philippine army urges no payments to free foreign captives

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Manila (Reuters) — The Philippines discouraged ransom payments on Wednesday (April 20) for captives held by Islamist militants in a bid to stop a kidnap "industry" emerging after a series of rebel seizures of Indonesian and Malaysian crew.

A Philippine military spokesman was responding to media reports on Tuesday (April 19) that quoted an Indonesian minister as saying a Taiwan firm would pay to free 10 Indonesians held by Abu Sayyaf rebels.

A combined 18 crew from Indonesia and Malaysia have been taken captive in three separate attacks on tugboats in Philippine waters close to maritime borders with the two countries.

"The armed forces continues to encourage everyone to observe the government's no ransom policy," Philippine military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla told reporters.

He said the military wanted to "discourage this kind of growing 'industry'" and cut off funds that would ultimately strengthen the rebels.

Indonesia's coordination minister for political, legal, and security affairs, Luhut Pandjaitan, was quoted as saying a Taiwan firm was prepared to pay P50 million ($1.08 million) to free a crew held since late March.

The Philippines rarely publicizes ransom payments and officials sometimes refer to them euphemistically as "board and lodgings."

Padilla said there were ongoing military operations to rescue the captives. "The safety of the kidnap victims is our primordial concern," he added.

Five other foreign nationals, including two Canadians, are also held on the remote southern island of Jolo, a stronghold of the small but violent al Qaeda-linked group, known for beheading, bombings, and extortion.

Neil Reeder, Canada's ambassador to the Philippines, expressed serious concern over an Abu Sayyaf threat to behead two of its citizens on April 25 if their families and government failed to pay P300 million for each of them.

"We are very, very concerned about the situation of our nationals," Reeder told reporters in Manila.

"We are doing our best for their safety and security and we hope that they'll be safe and sound and released very soon."

Security is precarious in the south of the largely Christian Philippines, despite a 2014 peace pact between the government and the largest Muslim rebel group that ended 45 years of conflict.