World Bulletin / News Desk
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebel group -- which is engaged in a peace process with the government -- has been facilitating negotiations which resulted in the release of a Norwegian and four Indonesians over the past week in the troubled southern island province of Sulu. The Norwegian and three Indonesian fishermen freed over the weekend were hosted by the MNLF's Nur Misuari.
Brig. Gen. Restitution Padilla, Armed Forces Philippines spokesman, underlined Friday the importance of the military pushing through with its operations against the Abu Sayyaf despite ongoing efforts for the release of more than 10 remaining hostages.
"We have not agreed [with Misuari]. It is important to continue the operation. It happened before that the request becomes the root of escape," he told local radio station dzBB.
"Just continue the operations. Just give space for the turnover and transfer. We're not withdrawing the forces," he was quoted as saying by GMA News.
Five additional battalions of security forces, consisting of 2,000 to 3,000 men, have recently been deployed to Sulu’s capital Jolo to maintain pressure on the Abu Sayyaf.
Since 1991, the group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is one of two militant groups in the south to have pledged allegiance to ISIL, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and MNLF-breakaway group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.
In 2013, Misuari’s MNLF faction laid siege to the majority-Christian southern city of Zamboanga to protest a peace process by the rival rebel group, which Misuari claims leaves Muslims in the country’s south shortchanged in comparison to an earlier MNLF peace deal.
Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered security forces not to arrest the MNLF founder by saying, “if Nur Misuari comes out from where he is right now in Jolo, Sulu, escort him and bring [him] to where I am."