, KUALA LUMPUR, April 10- Kidnappers based in the southern Philippines have demanded more than $11 million in ransom for a Chinese tourist abducted from a Malaysian dive resort, a senior minister said Thursday.
Malaysian Home Minister Zahid Hamidi told AFP the family of Gao Huayun, who was kidnapped by gunmen on April 2 along with a Filipina resort worker, are negotiating with her abductors through an intermediary.
“The kidnappers have asked for 36.4 million ringgit ($11.25 million). Gao’s family has appointed someone to negotiate for her safe release,” said Zahid, whose ministry handles internal security and law enforcement.
“We hope this case can be settled as soon as possible.”
He gave no further details.
Gao, who is 29, and Filipina resort worker Marcy Dayawan, 40, were taken from the Singamata Reef Resort in Malaysia’s Borneo island state of Sabah in a late-night raid by a group of gunmen.
The area of eastern Sabah is famed for its world-class scuba diving but also notorious for lawlessness and kidnappings blamed on bandits from the Muslim southern Philippines.
The Philippine military said last week the Abu Sayyaf, a small band of Islamic militants infamous for kidnappings for ransom, are the prime suspects.
It said the Philippines had responded by deploying soldiers to the remote Tawi-Tawi islands, where the gunmen were believed to have taken the women in a speedboat.
Philippine authorities said they had no knowledge of the ransom negotiations.
The abductors are believed affiliated with Abu Sayyaf “sub-commander” Murphy Ambang Ladjia, who was involved in kidnapping 21 people from another Sabah diving resort in 2000.
Twenty of those hostages everal of whom were foreign tourists ere released within five months, reportedly after hefty ransoms were paid.
A Filipino captive was held until 2003.
Malaysia said at the weekend that Gao’s family in China had been contacted by telephone by her kidnappers.
The episode has further strained China-Malaysia relations already tested over the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
The plane vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard — two-thirds of them Chinese — and Chinese relatives of passengers have harshly accused Malaysian authorities of ineptitude and a cover-up in the failure to find the jet.
An Australian-led effort now searching in the remote Indian Ocean is seeking to pinpoint the source of underwater signals believed to be from the plane’s data recorders.
China pressed Malaysia last week to rescue Gao and ensure the safety of Chinese nationals.
Zahid said Malaysia would take steps further to increase security in Sabah.
The government ramped up security last year after a bizarre incursion by Filipino Muslim militants that left dozens dead, and subsequently declared eastern Sabah safe for tourism.
Zahid insisted the security effort is “not a failure”.