Boy Kidnapped in Philippines, Ransom Suspected

COTABATO, Philippines (AP) - Gunmen seized a 4-year-old boy on
his way home from school in the southern Philippines, authorities
said Friday, blaming a notorious kidnapping-for-ransom gang
allegedly in league with local officials.

Police and soldiers arrested one suspect - a former radio DJ -
hours after the four gunmen in a car snatched the son of a
Chinese-Filipino trader in Cotabato city on Thursday, Senior
Superintendent Willie Dangane said.

The three other suspects, believed to be holding the boy in a
village near Cotabato, reportedly are employees of the
transportation department of a Muslim autonomous region in the
southern Philippines, Dangane said.

The boy was suffering from fever and asthma, he said.

Cotabato Mayor Muslimin Sema suspected that the kidnapping, the
fourth in the region since May, was the work of a group of former
Muslim rebels and local gunmen known as the Pentagon gang. The
group has been blamed for several abductions in recent years in the
central part of southern Mindanao island, where Muslim rebels
maintain strongholds.

The rebels have been fighting for Muslim self-rule in the
predominantly Roman Catholic nation's south for decades.

Sema said the series of ransom kidnappings could be linked to
next year's national elections as candidates may be looking for
ways to fund their campaigns. Kidnappings and bank robberies
usually rise ahead of elections.

Wealthy traders of Chinese descent and their families are often
targets of kidnappings.

The 70-year-old sister of a Chinese-Filipino hotel owner in the
city was released from seven days of captivity earlier this month
after her family paid a ransom. Her brother and his 10-year-old
daughter were also held in February for four days.

Last month, Philippine troops and Muslim rebels worked together
in a brief, rare alliance to force the kidnappers to abandon a
Chinese tourist held for five days.

The Abu Sayyaf, a smaller but more violent al-Qaida-linked
group, also has carried out kidnappings in the southern
Philippines, and has been holding an Italian Red Cross worker since
January.


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