'Abu Sayyaf training with Taliban'

SINGAPORE, JULY 6. Around 50 members of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf gang are undergoing training with the Taliban in Afghanistan, a Philippine Senator has claimed.

Mr. Rodolfo Biazon said a former Philippine Ambassador, now member of a U.N. mission to Afghanistan, had provided him with this information. ``According to (Mr. Reynaldo) Arcilla, the finding is that there are now 50 members of the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) training in Afghanistan with the Taliban,'' Senator Biazon was quoted as saying in the Philippine press today.

Mr. Biazon, who heads the Senate panel on national security and defence, could not say whether or not the wanted Saudi rebel, Osama bin Laden, was footing the bill for the training. He recalled that the Abdurrajak Janjalani, the founder of Abu Sayyaf, and some of its original members had been trained in Afghanistan during the CIA-led Afghan ``jihad''. ``When the Afghan war ended in 1989, these Afghan veterans headed by Janjalani came back to the country and probably having nothing to do, they organised the ASG in 1992,'' Senator Biazon added.

Currently, the Abu Sayyaf has taken hostage a group of people, including three American nationals. The outfit recently released two Filipinos after huge amounts of ransom were paid to the captors. For its part, the Philippine Government has rejected the payment of ransom, but relatives have taken to deal with the Abu Sayyaf directly.

Strengthened by massive payments last year, the Abu Sayyaf leaders are using satellite telephones to arrange the payment of ransom through intermediaries. Though they have also made some political demands, these seem incidental to the real objective of their kidnapping-for-ransom strategy which has helped them buy new weapons and speed boats. While the President, Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has promised to crush the Abu Sayyaf, the military has been far from successful in achieving this goal.