By Francisco Tuyay, Florante S. Solmerin Publish in Manilastandardtoday
THE troops hunting down fleeing Abu Sayyaf fighters seized two underground camps in Patikul, Sulu, on Sunday afternoon as the military kept up the pressure and expected to engage them in a firefight soon, an official said.
One of the camps was used to hold German nationals Viktor Estefan Okonek, 71, and his partner Henrike Dielen, 55, who were freed on the night of Oct. 17 after being held captive for six months, Armed Forces Public Affairs Office Chief Harold Cabunoc said.
He said the abandoned camps, both in the hinterlands of Patikul town, were seized in the course of the military’s campaign against the bandits.
“We captured two ASG camps in Patikul as the troops continue hunting down the militants,” Cabunoc said.
“Our campaign is relentless because he [Armed Forces Chief Gregorio Pio Catapang] wants results.”
He said the fleeing Abu Sayyaf fighters were mixing with civilians and hiding in their communities.
But Cabunoc insisted that the military was not part of the negotiations for the release of the hostages and the alleged release of a P250-million to the Abu Sayyaf.
“We didn’t have any part in the negotiations,” Cabunoc said.
He said the first Abu Sayyaf camp in Kabuntakas village in Patikul was seized by troopers from the 35th Infantry Battalion.
He said that camp could accommodate 100 people and that it was the same bunker where Okonek and Dielen were kept.
The second camp was captured by soldiers from the 32nd Infantry Battalion under a Captain Rosario in Sitio Lasal in Buhanginan village in Patikul, Cabunoc said, adding that was the same
site where members of the Army’s Joint Special Operations Group and Abu Sayyaf bandits engaged in a firefight, resulting in the death of eight soldiers.
A report reaching Camp Aguinaldo said the second camp had 47 bunkers.
“It appears the hostages were kept in that camp but we cannot confirm if they are still holding the remaining hostages,” Cabunoc said.
The military claims that some 1,200 soldiers applied intense pressure on the Abu Sayyaf, forcing them to release the hostages without ransom being paid.
The Abu Sayyaf seized the Germans in the high seas off the southern portion of Palawan on April 26 and then took them to Sulu.
The Abu Sayyaf are said to be holding 10 more hostages including European bird watchers Elwold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, who were seized in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi, on Jan. 31, 2012.