KOTA KINABALU: Gunmen holding the four Malaysians at the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Jolo appear eager to â€œconvertâ€ their captives into quick cash.
Jolo-based anti-kidnapping activist Prof Octavio Dinampo, who said this, added that a Facebook photograph of the four abducted seamen was to pressure their families into negotiating a deal for their release.
He said Malaysian authorities were seen as no longer willing to take the soft approach to â€œbargainâ€ with the gunmen.
â€œThis is indicated in the Malaysian Governmentâ€™s move to halt all barter trade between Sabah and southern Philippines after the beheading of hostage Bernard Thien last November and the kidnapping of the four men on April 1,â€ Prof Dinampo said when contacted.
He said the barter trade halt had caused an increase in prices of basic items such as rice and fuel in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, where Jolo is located, and Tawi Tawi.
Prof Dinampo said the Abu Sayyaf also needed the cash to help their counterparts in Basilan island who need reinforcements following massive military operations to capture Abu Sayyaf Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon. The group had killed 19 soldiers on April 9.
He said the Basilan gunmen were bracing for a larger scale Philippines military offensive amid ongoing clashes that have killed 23 soldiers over the past week.
â€œThings are becoming complicated for the gunmen and that is why they are trying to get the cash as fast as possible,â€ Prof Dinampo said.
On Thursday, a picture of the four Malaysian sailors abducted from a tugboat off Pulau Ligitan near Semporna was uploaded on Facebook. The four sailors were seen squatting with one of them holding a piece of paper with the name â€œVictor Troyâ€ with April 8 2016 written below.
The Facebook page under the name â€œVictor Troy Pozâ€ is believed to have been set up recently by the Abu Sayyaf group.
Wong Teck Kang, 31, Wong Hung Sing, 34, Wong Teck Chii, 29, and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, all from Sarawak, were grabbed by Abu Sayyaf-linked gunmen in international waters off Sabahâ€™s Pulau Ligitan on April 1.
With tight security at Sabahâ€™s sea border, the Abu Sayyaf have staged a total of three kidnappings on tugboats plying international shipping lanes between the Sabah-southern Philippines sea borders.