The Philippine government has given approval for the Indonesian military forces to enter its territory in efforts to gain the release of seven Indonesian sailors taken hostage by two militant groups in waters off the Philippines last week, an Indonesian Cabinet minister said Tuesday.
"They approved us to enter into Philippine waters and land," Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told reporters, saying that the arrangement was decided during his meeting with his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin on Sunday.
The move is possible under a 1975 bilateral agreement between the two countries that enables the Indonesian forces to hunt terrorists and pirates across the border of the two countries.
The defense ministers discussed in their talks the repeated kidnappings of Indonesian sailors by militant groups in the southern Philippines, including the Abu Sayyaf group.
In the meeting, the Philippines also decided to allow Indonesian soldiers to escort Indonesian vessels sailing to and from the Philippines so that they can take quick action in the event the ships come under attack.
It is the third such case in three months targeting Indonesian sailors in the southern Philippine area.
Task force binuo kasunod ng pagdukot sa 7 Indonesian
In the two previous incidents in March and April, the kidnapped sailors were later released unharmed. It has not been confirmed whether ransoms were paid.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a press statement Tuesday that based on information she had received, the condition of the seven hostages is good.
Although they were initially taken hostage by two different groups, Retno said they are detained together, although they are sometimes moved to a different place and divided into two groups.
Indonesian Defense Force Commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo has said the military believes the two groups are Abu Sayyaf and al-Habsy Misaya, a faction of the Abu Sayyaf group operating on Tapui Island in the southern Philippines.
"We are also still verifying the request of ransom, which is said to be 200 million pesos," Gatot said late Monday.
The Abu Sayyaf claims to promote an independent Islamic state comprising part of Mindanao Island and the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines.
Besides kidnappings for ransom, it has engaged in bombings, assassinations and extortion, making it one of the Philippines' most serious security threats.