Abductions in Philippines cause concern

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Abductions in Philippines cause concern

Koreans residing in the Philippines are growing more wary of organized kidnappings there, particularly in light of the latest incident, in which a 74-year-old man was discovered dead 10 months after his abduction by a kidnap-for-ransom group.

This year, 10 Koreans have been killed in the Philippines, raising alarm in Seoul on how to better protect its nationals residing in or visiting the Southeast Asian nation.

Concern has also grown over the presence of kidnapping groups, which assign different people to oversee different stages of the abduction process, from targeting victims and identifying their locations to the negotiation process.

On Sunday, Thien Nyuk Fun, a Malaysian woman who was kidnapped by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, was released after six months in Sulu province, in the southern Philippines.

The 74-year-old man, however, only identified by his surname Hong, who was kidnapped at the beginning of this year by the same group, was not so fortunate.

Hong was abducted by the kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf on Jan. 24, while he was visiting his son’s home in Zamboanga Sibugay province, near Sulu.

Abu Sayyaf bandits operate around the remote Sulu province and reportedly demanded a ransom of 500 million pesos ($10.6 million) for Hong three weeks after he was kidnapped.

His body was found on a street in Sulu at the end of last month.

The al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf is blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization, known for bombings, kidnappings, beheadings and extortion.

The group’s hostages have included Dutch, Malaysian, Japanese, Norwegian and Canadian nationals, and the victims are often forced to plea for help in ransom videos posted online.

In October 2014, two Germans were freed after being held for six months in the southern Philippines by Abu Sayyaf, which reportedly received 250 million pesos ($5.6 million) in exchange for their release.

Koreans residing in the Philippines have shared their worries on online forums over whether it’s time to leave, particularly with a rise in kidnappings and killings targeted at foreigners.

The Filipino police have a special Anti-Kidnapping Group to handle those cases, and in 2010, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs installed a Korean Desk with the Philippine National Police to handle crimes involving Korean citizens.

Koreans nationals who have long resided in the Philippines generally avoid taking taxis when possible. When they do, they often opt for taxis ordered by hotels or offices, or cabs can be tracked.

On March 3, 2014, a young college student was kidnapped as she got into a cab in Pasay City in Metro Manila. The abduction was the first known report in which a Korean student studying in the Philippine capital was abducted and killed.

Pasay is a popular entertainment area around Ninoy Aquino International Airport, where many hotels are located. The woman caught a cab on the street on her way to meet a friend.

Her abductors had apparently been waiting for her. That evening, they contacted the student’s friend, demanding a ransom of over 200 million won, and over the next two days, the kidnappers called the friend 10 times, insisting she was still alive.

After the woman’s friend lost contact with the kidnappers, a cab suspected to have been used in the abduction was found in northern Manila, and a man, suspected to be one of the kidnappers, was discovered dead from a gunshot would outside the vehicle.

The perpetrators reportedly contacted the friend again about a ransom on March 10, just a month before the woman’s heavily decomposed body was found in the kidnappers’ hideout.

Officials warn foreigners visiting or living in the Philippines to practice caution and not to follow individuals who make suspicious requests, even if they are dressed in police uniforms.

Nationals are also advised to contact the Korean Embassy in Manila or the nearest consulate in case of concern and it is recommended that they only use cabs that can be traced, such as those provided by hotels. Likewise, in cases where an armed assailant demands money or valuables, it is advised that victims hand them over instead of trying to put up a fight.

The Foreign Ministry said it would consider reviewing a travel ban on Mindanao, the southern Philippine island where Sulu province is located.

Some 88,000 Koreans live in the Philippines.

BY AN HYO-SEONG, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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