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Howitzer Blasts, Tuesday “Deadline” Raise Tensions In Sulu Abduction Area

June 15, 2008

A journalist based in Jolo plus reports of a major foreign wire service and GMATV News on line at past 8 pm Sunday all confirm that tensions have risen in the upland areas of Indanan, Sulu in the vicinity of Mount Tumatangis over military military cannon firings, troop movements, and the use of remote-controlled drone surveillance flights.

This is the same vicinity in the Patikul-Indanan Sulu corridor where Drilon and her companions were last seen 8 days ago.

Agence France France Presse and GMA News are both reporting, as confirmed by my own source that military howitzers cannons unleashed about one dozen cannon rounds in the direction of Mt. Tumatangis between 3 a.m. Sunday here in Manila.

The GMA News report meanwhile says “it was unknown if the early morning assault was a prelude to the rescue of the hostages. Later in the day, more soldiers arrived in Sulu on board the Philippine Navy ship BRP Bacolod City.”

After pre-dawn the howitzer barrage “truckloads of troops began moving from a Jolo military base,” said the separate AFP wire report.

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Jolo radio journalist Zeny Masong told this writer, “we were jolted by the sound of the explosions but when we asked the military they said it was nothing.”

But Masong confirmed the firing “appeared to be directed at the uphills” referring to Mt. Tumatangis which is some 20 kilometers from downtown Jolo.”

The Mindanao Examiner reported that an elderly woman was rushed to hospital on Sunday for shrapnel wounds after the bombardment of the Sulu uphills.

“The 65-year old woman was rushed to the Sulu Provincial Hospital in Jolo town by her relatives from Indanan town, where troops fired at least a dozen rounds of howitzer cannons at dawn Sunday. It was unknown if there were other victims aside from the old woman.” the Examiner reported

Reacting to the military actions, Indanan mayor Alvarez Isnaji told reporters the firing of cannons “is putting the lives of the victims in danger.”

Isnaji said the kidnappers were also alarmed by a US spy plane flying over Sulu since Saturday. “They are alarmed by this spy plane which is probably on a reconnaissance mission,” he said.

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He said the kidnappers were getting restless over the failure of Drilon’s family to resolve the crisis. He said the captors gave an ultimatum until Tuesday for the victims’ families to secure the release of the hostages.

“We don’t know what they are up to and what they are asking from the family of Drilon, but they gave me an ultimatum until Tuesday to resolve this problem. The kidnappers wanted the family of Drilon to comply with their agreement,” Isnaji said.

“Ces Drilon keeps on telling me to fast track the talks so they can come out safely,” Isnaji said, adding that Drilon’s family must closely coordinate with him in their negotiations.

In yet another disturbing admission. the Mindanao Examiner’s latest report from Jolo quotes negotiators Alvarez Isnaji and Lady Ann Sahidulla, Sulu deputy governor as saying, “this is dragging too long because we haven’t yet met the amount of money demanded by the kidnappers.”

Mayor Isnaji Alvarez and Sulu Deputy Governor Lady Ann Sahidullah

Both maintained that no ransom was being discussed or had been paid but only money “for board and lodging” of the captives.

Whatever the euphemism it now is clear ransom payment negotiators are the order of the day in the Sulu abduction.

Sahidullah revealed as much as she addressed a stated directly to the alleged Abu Sayyaf kidnappers:“We appeal to you to free the innocent victims. You are not only giving our province a bad name, but the entire country as well,” she said.

Then Sahidullah admitted: Drilon’s family had told her they “could only afford P2 million.”

Meanwhile more soldiers arrived Sunday in Sulu on board the Philippine Navy ship BRP Bacolod City.

As the night deepens in the Philippines this Sunday it is unclear how the crisis will stand as the working week begins.

The longer the resolution of this standoff takes the pressure will undeniably increase for authorities to look at their remaining hard, and difficult options.

The clock is ticking and we also know those assessing at this episode from a wider field of vision are looking at another calendar: the upcoming ARMM wlections in August where hostage negotiator Alvarez is one of seven candidates.

Another relevant footnote, this time with a Manila dateline: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is scheduled to make her official working visit to Washington D.C. on June 23-24 for talks with President George W. Bush.

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