Sunday, December 13, 2009
Arroyo government settles mass tribal kidnapping in Philippines
Officials of the Arroyo administration in Manila must be relieved that a tense standoff with dozens of hostages in lawless Mindanao has been resolved safely, even at the cost of a bit of integrity. Authorities in Prosperidad convinced a group of tribal gunmen to release their 42 remaining hostages and surrender Sunday by promising not to charge them for the kidnapping and by allowing criminal charges already pending against them to be tried in tribal courts. "At last the crisis is over," provincial vice-governor Santiago Cane told the Reuters international news service. "The guns, bullets and grenades of these men are with me now." The gunmen had originally taken 71 hostages in Agusan del Sur province after a gunbattle with a rival tribal group but released 29, including 18 children, before the final negotiations. The southern island of Mindanao has been a rebel hotbed for decades, with Islamic and communist militia jockeying for power with private armies controlled by wealthy families and the authorities in Manilla. Reuters said studies by the Asia Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2007 found more than 5,000 people had been killed and tens of thousands displaced in clan feuds in the southern Philippines. The kidnapping came just three weeks after the massacre of 57 people in nearby Maguindanao province raised questions about the administration of Gloria Arroyo months before next year's presidential election.