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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Abu Sayyaf Abduction: Fong relishes freedom, 17 years on

Kidnap victims: The nine Malaysians and two Filipino hostages in their makeshift tent in the jungles of Talipao. Fong is seated third from left
SEMPORNA - For the past 16 years, dive instructor Ken Fong would look at his watch with dread at 8pm every April 23. He’ll be doing the same for the 17th time on Sunday.

“I remember the date and time very well. It was a big event in my life. I look to see if it is 8pm. That is the time we were kidnapped,” said the 44-year-old who is based in Osaka.

Fong was then having a BBQ party to celebrate Easter with foreign tourists in Sipadan island, one of the world’s top diving destinations, when Abu Sayyaf gunmen struck.

The perpetrators whisked away Fong, eight Sabahans, two Filipino resort workers and 10 foreign tourists.

It was the first cross-border kidnapping in Malaysia involving locals and foreigners.

Fong did not know what was going on at the time. “I was scared and confused. I thought it was a robbery.

“I thought they had forced us into the boat so that they could ransack the resorts,” he said.

But once the boats left Sipadan island, Fong realised something was not right. “It didn’t feel like a robbery.

“A few hours into the journey (towards southern Philippines), I realised that I was being kidnapped,” he said.

Comparing the Sipadan event to other similar abductions since, Fong said: “We were lucky. It was mostly like a military operation.

“It was not that traumatic. There was no threat to behead us,” he said.

Even The Star managed to visit the hostages twice as they were held by Commander Robot and Mujib Susukan in Talipao in Jolo island.

Fong remembered that he was happy with our visit. “At least you were the first Malaysians to see us and pass information to our families that we were okay,” he said.

“At that time, the Philippines military was pursuing the Abu Sayyaf captors and there were gun battles and all we wanted was a peaceful negotiation for our release,” he said.

“We just wanted to be out. And, when we were released, it was like a dream – like waking up from a nightmare,” he said.

“Once or twice in the last 16 years, I would have nightmares about still being a hostage,” Fong said. “It would be a relief to wake up and realise that I was free again.”

Fong said the Sabahan hostages just wanted to move on with their lives.

By PK Katharason, Muguntan Vanar and Philip Golingai

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