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Malaysia kidnappers phone relatives of Chinese captive

KUALA LUMPUR -- Kidnappers holding a Chinese tourist who was abducted from a resort on Malaysia's Borneo island have made a phone call to her family in China, a senior security official said Sunday.

The gunmen have communicated with the family of Gao Huayuan, 29, whom security forces believe is being held in Jolo island in southern Philippines, Mohammad Mentek, eastern Sabah security command director-general, told AFP.

“They have made telephone contact with her family,” he said.

The Abu Sayyaf, a small band of militants infamous for kidnapping for ransom, are the prime suspects in Wednesday's abductions of the Chinese tourist and a Filipina resort worker, Marcy Dayawan, 40.

Mohammad said that Malaysian authorities believe the two hostages are safe.

“We hope they will be returned safely to their families as soon as possible,” he said.

Mohammad declined to comment whether the kidnappers had began ransom negotiations with the Chinese family.

Philippine authorities believe the kidnappers are affiliated with Abu Sayyaf “sub-commander” Murphy Ambang Ladjia, who was involved in a spectacular kidnapping of 21 people from another Sabah resort in 2000.

Twenty of those hostages — many of whom were Europeans and other foreign tourists — were released within five months, reportedly after hefty ransoms were paid.

A final Filipino captive was held until 2003.

The Abu Sayyaf has only a few hundred gunmen but has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history, including bombings and kidnappings that have often targeted foreigners or Christians.

It was set up in the 1990s, reportedly with seed money from al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Mohammad said security forces had beefed up their presence with more sea patrols along the coastal waters in Sabah, a major diving attraction for foreigners.

“But we are not able to be everywhere all the time since our sea borders with the Philippines are wide and porous,” he said.

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