P2M RANSOM DEMANDED FOR KIDNAPPED JAPANESE

Zamboanga City, Jan. 27, 2003 - Gunmen holding a kidnapped Japanese trader in Mindanao island have demanded two million pesos ($37,209) ransom in exchange for his safe release, police said Sunday.

Police said bandits are holding the 48-year old Hazumitsu Hashiba, of Tokyo, Japan in eastern Mindanao. Hashiba, who is engaged in buying and selling of marine products, was seized Jan. 23 after five masked gunmen barged into their house in Lanuza town in Surigao del Sur province.

A regional police commander Chief Supt. Albert Olario said the kidnappers have contacted the victim's Filipino wife Mercedita Lupio on Saturday and demanded the ransom.

"The kidnappers are asking two million pesos and negotiation for the safe release of the Japanese man in going and so is the government's rescue efforts," Olario told reporters.

He said police and military forces were tracking down the kidnappers, believed to be tribespeople, operating in the province. "The government is firm it will not pay any ransom amd we are doing everything possible to end this problem peacefully," he said. Police did not release details or progress of the negotiations. Olario earlier said they were looking into possibility the kidnapping could have been staged by the victim's wife.

Communist and Muslim rebels are also known to operate in the southern Philippines. Abu Sayyaf rebels have kidnapped a Japanese trader and his Filipino companions in the 1990s in Lake Sebu in South Cotabato province, but were later rescued by troops. (Al Jacinto PHNO Mindanao Bureau)


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