Monday, August 13, 2012

May 3, 2000

May 3, 2000, The Straits Times, Letter Home: 'Miss you all', by Enrique Soriano, in Jolo,
May 3, 2000, The Straits Times, Breaking Point, by Enrique Soriano,
May 3, 2000, The Straits Times, Hostages moved to another place,
May 3, 2000, AFP, Families of Malaysia hostages urge Manila to hold back troops
May 3, 2000, AFP, Germany proposes international mediator for hostages,
May 3, 2000, AFP, Philippine Muslims claim two foreign hostages dead,
May 3, 2000, Bernama, Estrada Assures Malaysia a Peaceful End to Abduction Issue, by Abdul Muin Majid,
May 3, 2000, AFP, Philippine Muslims claim two foreign hostages dead,
May 3, 2000, AP, Two foreign hostages 'killed in clash with military'
May 3, 2000, CNN News, Two hostages reported killed in Philippines army clash with rebels,
May 3, 2000, Reuters, Philippine Fighting Worsens; Hostages May Be Alive,
May 3, 2000, Philippine Headline News, 13 Basilan Hostages Rescued From Abu Sayyaf,
May 3, 2000, Philippine Headline News, MILF Bombing Rampage in Gen Santos, Highway Battles Continue,
May 3, 2000, Philippine Headline News, Basilan Hostaging: 3 Children Rescued, More Expected Today,
May 3, 2000, Philippine Headline News, 2 Foreign Hostages Reported Dead,
May 3, 2000, [04:16 GMT 05:16 UK] BBC News, Fears for Philippines hostages,

May 3, 2000, The Straits Times, Letter Home: 'Miss you all', by Enrique Soriano, in Jolo,

SOUTH African hostage Monique Strydom asked me to do her a favour when we met. She wanted me to send a letter to her worried family back home.

She grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled a two-page note which she passed on to me when a guard was not looking.

She was the second last person I spoke to, when I accompanied a medical mission to the Abu Sayyaf jungle hideout on Monday.

All the while, Mrs Strydom was being comforted by her husband, Callie.

Crying, hungry and distressed, she pleaded for the Philippine military to stop its action as she did not want to be caught in the middle of it.

Yesterday afternoon, The Straits Times Philippine Correspondent, Ms Luz Baguioro, faxed the letter to Mrs Strydom's home.

It prompted an immediate reply from her parents and a deluge of calls from journalists in Johannesburg.

Mr Hennie Aggenbag and his wife, Monica, expressed their thanks for the note and asked me to convey their love to the couple in captivity.

"And tell them that we are doing our utmost on this side to get them released. Everybody here misses them and they are in our prayers constantly," they said.

Thanking Ms Baguioro for sending the note on to them, they said: "Any news eases the uncertainty a bit. Please keep us informed." --AFP

May 3, 2000, The Straits Times, Breaking Point, by Enrique Soriano,

This is Enrique Soriano's account of his trip with a doctor to the hideout where rebels are holding 21 hostages they seized from Sipadan island

SAMAK -- When journalists in Jolo found out there was a chance to get into the Abu Sayyaf camp in the village of Samak, intense lobbying began.

Only three media representatives -- a film cameraman, a reporter and a press photographer -- were to accompany Dr Nelsa Amin, the doctor given the task to treat the 21 Sipadan hostages.

Eventually, a lottery settled who would go.

The Straits Times was pulled out of a hat twice, once by the police chief and the second by Dr Nelsa. Close to 3.45 pm, we were bundled into a four-wheel drive with the driver and Dr Nelsa. We thought the Abu Sayyaf hideout was deep in the jungle, but it was far from that.

Samak is a 45-minute drive from Jolo. The Abu Sayyaf camp is barely 10 minutes from the village centre.

A road leads to the camp. It was muddy and the pick-up truck slipped and slid throughout the ride.

As we neared the camp, people appeared from the bushes. Our vehicle stopped at the end of the road and soon there were about a dozen armed men around the vehicle.

A short man, armed with an M-203 (an M-16 with a grenade launcher), came up, speaking in Bahasa Melayo, and took one of my cameras. He said he was Commander Robot, the Abu Sayyaf leader there.

A hut measuring 20 m by 20 m was only about 10 m from the vehicle and soon heads popped out from the door. In and around this hut were about 100 armed men.

Expressionless and tired from their ordeal, the 21 hostages did not stir when we entered the hut.

Dr Nelsa got down to work and treated Frenchman Stephane Loisy.

But the doctor soon had to stop treating the hostages as the rebels began surrounding her, demanding they be treated as well.

I introduced myself to the hostages as a journalist from Singapore.

Mrs Renate Wallert of Germany had her head covered with a towel. She was on holiday with her husband and son. She sobbed when I told her who I was.

One by one, I spoke to each of the hostages. The Asian hostages were at the doorway on the right side of the hut, while the rest were spread out on the other side, leaning against the wall facing the door.

There were 30 Abu Sayyaf in the hut as well. I was told not to photograph the rebels, but there were many in the pictures I took, some even posing.

Filthy containers with dirty water lined the wall. "That is our drinking water," said Mr Marc Wallert.

Chalk marks on the wall were the only way the hostages could know how long they had been there.

We stayed for about two hours. After speaking to all of the hostages, we left.

I asked them to hang on. I made them promise they would keep their spirits up.

"Promise me that I will see you when you get released," I told them. "I hope it will be over soon."

But it was not the end yet. Commander Robot wanted me to stay behind and pass my film on. He also took my Cambodian scarf as a souvenir and one of his men wanted my shoes.

Thankfully, they let me go. Dirty, hungry and hopeful for the hostages, I left the camp as the sun began to set. I felt helpless for leaving them that way. --Straits Times

May 3, 2000, The Straits Times, Hostages moved to another place,

JOLO (Philippines) -- Islamic extremists holding 21 mostly foreign hostages left their southern Philippines jungle camp with their captives after a clash with soldiers who surrounded the place, police reported on Wednesday.

"There are no traces of blood," the report said, adding that only medicine boxes delivered there on Monday by a government doctor were left behind.

Three soldiers, however, were wounded by sniper fire as the search party was leaving the guerilla camp, it added.

Nine Malaysians, a German family of three, two French nationals, two Finnish men, a South African couple and a Lebanese woman, along with two Filipinos were being held by the Abu Sayyaf in a jungle hut on Jolo island.

The hostages were taken by speedboat from the Malaysian island resort of Sipadan off Sabah on Easter Sunday.

Earlier on Wednesday, an Abu Sayyaf spokesman announced on local radio that a hostage had been shot dead while another died of a heart attack following a clash with government forces late on Tuesday.

Philippine authorities disputed the report, calling it "propaganda". -- AFP

May 3, 2000, AFP, Families of Malaysia hostages urge Manila to hold back troops

KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 (AFP) - Families of Malaysian hostages seized by Philippine kidnappers pleaded Wednesday with the Manila government not to send in troops to rescue them.

They were speaking after unconfirmed reports of deaths or injuries to two captives during an exchange of fire Tuesday afternoon between troops and kidnappers on the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

A minister visiting Manila to try to secure the hostages' safe return said Malaysia was willing to deal directly with the gang which seized 12 foreigners and nine Malaysians from Sipadan island off Borneo on April 23.

In Semporna, the nearest town in Borneo to Sipadan, families spent an agonising day as the conflicting reports came in.

"I'm fearing the worse for my husband. I shudder at the thought of the difficult time he and the other captives are undergoing," said Nelen Jaikun, 31, wife of wildlife officer Francis Masangkim.

Echoing calls from the Malaysian government, she pleaded with Manila not to resort to a military option.

Masnah Talib, mother of captive Zulkarnain Hashim, was quoted by Bernama as saying she hoped Manila would reach a compromise with the kidnappers to secure the release of the 21.

Pandikar Amin Mulia, special envoy of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, was due to meet President Joseph Estrada later Wednesday.

"Malaysia is prepared to extend whatever assistance to resolve the issue, including dealing direct with the abductors, besides cooperating in whatever form necessary," the state Bernama news agency quoted him as saying.

Pandikar Amin, a minister in the prime minister's department, said he would also tell Estrada of Malaysia's concern over the well-being of the captives.

Guerrillas from the Abu Sayyaf Muslim separatist group are holding them in a jungle camp on Jolo.

An Abu Sayyaf spokesman claimed Wednesday that two hostages died during the exchange of fire -- one from stray bullets and one of a heart attack. He did not name them.

The Philippine government negotiator Nur Misuari said an informant had told him two hostages had been hit.

But Abdusakur Tan, the governor of Sulu province which covers Jolo, said later all hostages were safe. A separate report said the hostages had already been moved to another location when the exchange of fire broke out Tuesday.

Defence Minister Najib Tun Razak told parliament there was still no confirmation of the reported deaths.

Najib said he hoped the Philippine government would give priority to the safety of the captives and not carry out military operations which could jeopardise this.

"This is our request and we hope the Philippine government appreciates our good intention," he said.

The Malaysian delegation leaves Manila for the southern city of Zamboanga Thursday to meet Misuari. It will hand over medical supplies for the captives. --AFP

May 3, 2000, AFP, Germany proposes international mediator for hostages,

BERLIN -- The German government has asked the Philippines to let an international mediator negotiate with rebels holding 21 captives, including several foreigners, foreign ministry state secretary Wolfgang Ischinger said on Wednesday.

Ischinger, speaking on Berlin's InfoRadio, said Germany had also proposed that the Philippines security forces withdraw a little from around the camp on the isle of Jolo where the rebels have been holding the captives.

The junior minister said the foreign ministry expected a positive response from Manila in the course of the day. -- AFP

May 3, 2000, Bernama, Estrada Assures Malaysia a Peaceful End to Abduction Issue, by Abdul Muin Majid, 23:47PM

MANILA, May 3 (Bernama) -- Philippine President Joseph Estrada on Wednesday assured Malaysia that the issue over the abduction of 21 captives, including 10 Malaysians, who are being held by an armed group in southern Philippines will be settled peacefully through negotiations.

Estrada gave the assurance to the special envoy of the prime minister, Datuk Pandikar Amin Mulia during their meeting here WEDNESDAY.

"However, he (Estrada) did not discount the possibility of using the military if other measures to resolve the issue come to a dead end," Pandikar Amin told Malaysian journalists after the meeting.

Earlier, a report from Manila said two of the 21 captives had been killed following a clash between government forces and the guerrillas.

The report from Manila has yet to be confirmed by the Philippine government.

However, latest reports from Manila quoted chief negotiator for the Philippine government, Nur Misuari as saying that he had "reliable information" that the two victims were only injured and were still alive.

Pandikar Amin also said that Estrada had no objection if he (Pandikar Amin) planned to take a trip to Zamboanga in southern Philippine. However, Estrada wanted it to be a brief visit.

Pandikar Amin, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, was sent to the Philippines to discuss with Manila the best way to resolve the abduction issue.

The ten Malaysians and 11 foreign nationals who were abducted from Sipadan Island by an armed group on April 23 are now believed to be held in Jolo, southern Philippines. --BERNAMA

May 3, 2000, AFP, Philippine Muslims claim two foreign hostages dead,

JOLO, Philippines, May 3 (AFP) - 11:24 - Two foreigners among 21 hostages held by Muslim rebels in the Philippines have died during a gun battle with government troops, a spokesman for the kidnappers claimed Wednesday.

One was shot dead by stray bullets while another died of a heart attack during the fight between the group and soldiers who surrounded the hideout where the hostages were being held in this southern Philippine island, Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Escobar told local radio.

He did not name the two hostages and senior Philippine military officials, foreign department officers and diplomats stressed there was no confirmation of their deaths following Tuesday night's clash.

Escobar told Radio Mindanao Network in nearby Zamboanga city that two hostages whom he did not name were killed during fighting in Jolo on Tuesday night, and that a third was "still in shock."

The Abu Sayyaf spokesman added: "The military has to withdraw. "If not, we cannot do anything," he warned.

The government's top negotiator in the hostage crisis said he was informed that two hostages had been shot and wounded.

Nur Misuari, a former rebel chief, told local radio one of his informants "called me up to inform me that two have been hit, one slightly, and the other one is a little serious," he said.

He did not name either casualty.

Misuari added there was "no confirmation" any of the hostages had been killed, as claimed by a rebel spokesman.

Nine Malaysians, a German family of three, two French nationals, two Finnish men, a South African couple and a Lebanese woman, along with two Filipinos were being held by the separatist Abu Sayyaf in a jungle hut in Jolo.

The hostages were taken by speedboat from the Malaysian island resort of Sipadan off Borneo on Easter Sunday.

Armed forces chief of staff General Angelo Reyes said he did not have news of the supposed deaths.

"Our role is to see to it that the area is cordoned off so they (gunmen) cannot escape," he said in a radio interview.

Southern Philippines military chief Lieutenant General Diomedio Villanueva confirmed that fighting occurred around the rebel camp late Tuesday, but said the military field commander there "did not mention the death of any foreign hostage."

Police said one soldier was killed and four others were wounded in fighting there on Tuesday afternoon.

"We have standing orders from the leadership of the (armed forces) not to assault the house itself," he told Manila radio station DZMM.

Asked about the possibility that stray bullets could have hit the hostages, he said: "There is always a possibility but it might be a little bit remote considering that the fighting is on the perimeter."

He said the Abu Sayyaf gunmen had been trying to break out of the military cordon around them. --AFP

May 3, 2000, AP, Two foreign hostages 'killed in clash with military'

TALIPAO (Philippines) -- Two foreign hostages died in a clash early on Wednesday between military troops and Muslim rebels who are holding 21 people on Jolo island in the southern Philippines, a guerilla leader claimed.

Military officials said they had no knowledge of any hostage fatalities, and the claim could not be immediately verified.

Soldiers and Abu Sayyaf rebels clashed several times on Tuesday and early on Wednesday after about 100 heavily armed guerillas attempted to escape through an encirclement by the military. At least one soldier was killed and six injured, officials said.

Commander Robot, an Abu Sayyaf leader, claimed in a telephone interview with a local ABS-CBN radio network that one hostage had been shot in the encounter and another died of a heart attack.

He apologised to their families and said it was not the rebels' doing.

Mr Nur Misuari, the government's hostage negotiator, said the rebels have refused to begin formal talks unless the troops are moved from the area. They are demanding that government forces must withdraw from their present position to a safe distance, he said. And as soon as that happens they are ready to open talks with me.

But Mr Misuari said he was told by the military that the troop presence would remain as is.

The 21 Jolo hostages were kidnapped on April 23 from a Malaysian diving resort and brought to a bamboo hut in Talipao on Jolo, about one hour away by boat. Amongst those kidnapped are tourists from Germany, France, South Africa, Finland and Lebanon as well as resort workers from the Philippines and Malaysia. --

May 3, 2000, CNN News, Two hostages reported killed in Philippines army clash with rebels,

Web posted at: 9:59 a.m. HKT (0159 GMT)

JOLO ISLAND, Philippines (CNN) -- Muslim extremists holding 21 hostages in the southern Philippines told local radio Wednesday that two hostages died during a battle between rebels and government forces.

The claim could not be independently confirmed, but the government said they are checking into the report.

A rebel spokesman early Wednesday called local radio, asking for a doctor -- but later called back, claiming two hostages were dead.

CNN Correspondent Maria Ressa said the spokesman claimed one white male died of a stray gunshot wound during the firefight and that a white female died of a heart attack.

A rebel leader Tuesday had threatened to behead two of the captives. The hostage takers are members of the Abu Sayyaf Muslim separatist group.

The fighting between the rebels and government forces intensified throughout the day Tuesday and continued early Wednesday. At least one government soldier was killed during the fighting, military officials said.

Government officials said it is no secret where the hostages are being kept -- in a bamboo hut in Talipao on Jolo. The military had brought in 400 to 500 security forces to try to secure the area and prevent anyone from entering or leaving Tuesday.

The group of 21 hostages includes 10 tourists from Germany, France, South Africa, Finland and Lebanon. The remaining hostages are said to be resort workers from the Philippines and Malaysia.

The hostages were kidnapped Easter Sunday on the Malaysian island of Sipadan, a noted diving resort. They were shown in videotape shot over the weekend huddled in a small bamboo hut.

The Abu Sayyaf group is seeking to form an Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

Troops have ringed the camp where the hostages are being kept and the high tension has led to sporadic exchanges of fire with the rebels. But Tuesday's shootout was the first time there were casualties.

A caller to a local radio station who claimed to be one of the gunmen holding the hostages has threatened to behead two of the captives unless the troops are pulled back.
Government trying to end crises

The Philippine government has been trying for days to end the Jolo hostage drama and another hostage scenario nearby -- both believed to involve Abu Sayyaf.

In the longer running of the two crises, Abu Sayyaf allegedly kidnapped 27 people, many of them elementary school children, on March 20.

And in the second, Abu Sayyaf allegedly seized their hostages in broad daylight.

Six armed men forced the 21 captives -- 10 Malaysians, three Germans, two South Africans, two French nationals, two Finns, one Lebanese and a Filipina -- after a day of diving to swim from the island to two waiting boats.

Filipino officials have said the kidnappers are seeking autonomy for Muslim areas in the nation's south, and a ban on fishing by big international vessels in the Sulu Sea, the local Muslim's traditional fishing ground, in exchange for the 21 hostages. Initial reports had said the kidnappers had requested $2.4 million in ransom.

Meanwhile, the captors holding the 27 hostages are reportedly seeking the release of three terrorists from U.S. jails, including Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center.
Doctor examines group of hostages

On Monday, the kidnappers allowed a provincial health officer, Dr. Nelsa Amin , to examine the group of 21 hostages, and to bring them medicine. Several journalists accompanied Amin.

The captives told Amin during the 45-minute visit that they were hungry. They pleaded for water and said they had diarrhea. It was the first time they had been examined by a physician since being kidnapped.

"It's terrifying ... We sit here every day. We're sick. We can't eat. We can't drink, and it seems that nothing is happening. We hear no news," Monique Strydom, of South Africa, told the reporters.

"We eat only rice, and the only water we have is the water from the rain," Loisy Stephone , of France, added. "It's very difficult to be clean here. You understand, we have problems with diarrhea, all of us."

Said France's Sonia Wendling: "Today is a good day because we had rain and we could wash, and we had lunch too...Sometimes we're laughing because if not, we'll become crazy."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

May 3, 2000, Reuters, Philippine Fighting Worsens; Hostages May Be Alive,
01:11:00 ET

JOLO, Philippines (Reuters) - Troops and Islamic rebels were locked on Wednesday in the heaviest fighting in years in the southern Philippines amid conflicting reports whether two foreign hostages held by guerrillas were dead or alive.

Sulu province's Governor Abdusakur Tan denied claims said to be from the Abu Sayyaf militia that a man and a woman among 21 hostages held by the group died during a five-hour gunbattle between guerrillas and troops on Tuesday night.

The man was hit by a stray bullet and a woman hostage died of a heart attack, a man claiming to be a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf said in calls to local radio and TV stations. He said another male hostage was wounded, also by a stray bullet.

He said he did not know the victims' nationalities but said they were Caucasian.

"That news is unverified and in fact that is not true," Tan told Reuters in a telephone interview. "All of the hostages are all right."

The hostages -- 10 Malaysians, three Germans, two French nationals, two South Africans, two Finns, one Lebanese and a Filipina -- were kidnapped from a Malaysian dive resort on April 23 and brought to a camp on Jolo.

Tan, speaking from Jolo island where the hostages were being held in the jungled interior, refused to say how he had received the information. Jolo is 960 km (600 miles) south of Manila.

Nur Misuari, a former rebel leader designated by Manila as the chief negotiator in the kidnapping, said he was told two of the hostages sustained gunshot wounds in the shooting but both were alive.


"One is slightly injured and the other is a little serious," he told the DZMM radio station in the city of Zamboanga. "There is no confirmation if there were any dead."

Some 2,000 troops have surrounded the rebel lair and gunbattles erupted in the area on Tuesday night amid attempts at negotiations through intermediaries.

Two soldiers were killed and six wounded in the fighting, local officials said. They said the Abu Sayyaf suffered an undetermined number of casualties.

Reporters were barred from going near the rebel camp on Wednesday. They said they could not hear any gunfire but soldiers manning checkpoints were extremely tense.

Guerrillas from another Muslim militia group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, launched a grenade attack on an airport on the main southern island of Mindanao and took over wide stretches of a highway in the area, military officials said.

The MILF rebels also took some 100 people hostage after seizing several vehicles on the highway, they said. The MILF traditionally do not hold hostages for any length of time.

Elsewhere police said four bombs exploded almost simultaneously in General Santos City, on the southern tip of Mindanao. About 20 people were injured, they said.

Some 80 people have been killed since Tuesday in the fighting between Philippine troops and MILF militia, said to be the worst since a peace agreement was signed with Muslim separatists in 1996.

The MILF hit the airport and an adjacent military camp near the city of Cotabato with grenades early on Wednesday but there was no serious damage or casualties, said Major General Gregorio Camiling, the senior officer in the area.

The MILF and the Abu Sayyaf rejected the 1996 peace deal although the former, the larger of the two groups, has held on again-off again peace talks with the government in a decades-long battle for Muslim self-rule in the south of the Roman Catholic nation.

The Abu Sayyaf, which means Father of the Sword in Arabic, also wants Muslim self-rule but is the more radical of the two and has refused to hold talks with the government.


In a third hostage drama involving mostly Filipino children, a man identifying himself as a guerrilla spokesman told a radio station his group was ready to hand over the 27 captives if troops were withdrawn from around the Jolo camp.

He said the hostages, held for more than a month, would be handed over to Philippine Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

He said the hostages and their rebel captors had escaped despite a military assault last week on the camp on Basilan island, near Jolo, where they were being held.

"We want her (Macapagal-Arroyo) to come here, we will give (her) all the hostages, these children," he said. "We will give all (hostages, if) operations will be stopped because we need to continue negotiations in Jolo."

The Jolo hostages were last seen by reporters who accompanied a doctor taken in to see them on Monday. The captives pleaded for a quick release, saying they were sick, hungry and frightened.

"We love you -- please put pressure on our embassy to help," South Africans Monique and Callie Strydom wrote in a letter smuggled out to their families by Enrique Soriano from Singapore's Straits Times newspaper.

"We are very sorry we are not with you. Will hopefully see you soon," said the letter. It was published by the newspaper on Wednesday. --ABC

May 3, 2000, Philippine Headline News, 13 Basilan Hostages Rescued From Abu Sayyaf,

Zamboanga City, May 3, 2000 - The military made good its promise to rescue more hostages from their Abu Sayyaf captors, as earlier announced by Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado.

Lt. General Diomedio Villanueva told newsmen that 13 hostages have been rescued by the military in Basilan.

At an earlier briefing at Camp Aguinaldo, Mercado had received word only about the first group rescued, composed of 3 school children.

"We are expecting more to be rescued within today," Mercado had said.

Today's succesful rescue operations still leave 14 hostages in the hands of the radical Muslim rebel group.

May 3, 2000, Philippine Headline News, MILF Bombing Rampage in Gen Santos, Highway Battles Continue,

Manila, May 3, 2000 - Major TV and radio stations disrupted regular programming several times today to bring in fresh, live reports from the escalating situations in several parts of Mindanao. This report was pieced together by Sol Vanzi in Manila, as monitored from various radio and TV news bulletins.

The progressive city of General Santos was rocked with explosions today as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) went on a bombing rampage that initial reports say could have killed 20 civilians.

The MILF action is taken as a last ditch effort to divert the Philippine military’s attention and personnel from the highways around Camp Abubakre, the MILF’s major stronghold.

RPN-9's correspondent Faith Barcelona went on nationwide live TV this noon to report that the old City Hall, the public market and the new fish port destroyed by bombs, while MILF troops blocked several major highways, including the ones leading to Tupi and Polomolok.

The Mayor of Lake Sebu is reported to be one of hundreds taken hostage after the highway battles blocked the way for more than 200 cars, passenger jeepneys and buses and cargo trucks.

Barcelona reported that businessmen and other residents have armed themselves for protection in the event that the MILF enters the city.

"All department stores and other businesses along the major streets of General Santos were hastily closed after news of the morning bombings spread," Barcelona reported.

The MILF has reportedly sent warnings that government buildings and gas depots will be among their major bombing targets.

Despite the bombings and highway closures, “there were no mass evacuations from General Santos City and the residents are just seeking shelter inside strong buildings.

Later, ABS-CBN reporter Aladin Bacolodan reported that the military is advising travellers to avoid the highway connection General Santos and Cotabato City.

According to reports, Col. Delfin Lorenzana of the AFP Southern Command admitted that government soldiers trying to clear the highway were driven back, outnumbered and outgunned by the MILF holding sway over the road.

May 3, 2000, Philippine Headline News, Basilan Hostaging: 3 Children Rescued, More Expected Today,

Camp Aguinaldo, QC, May 3, 2000 Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado this afternoon announced that the military has successfully rescued 3 schoolchildren who were among the 27 hostages abducted March 20 by the Abbu Sayyaf rebel group in Basilan.

Mercado made the announcement after a closed-door meeting with Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Angelo Reyes. He did not give any details of the rescue.

The Basilan hostage takers had fled their mountain top hideout with the hostages as the military closed in this weekend.

Mercado was confident there would be more hostages safely in government's hands before the end of theday.

"We believe we will be able to recover more (hostages) today," Mercado told a news conference.

The 24 remaining hostages are mainly school children, with one Catholic priest and 6 other adults.

A man claiming to be with the rebel group phoned a Mindanao radio station today and alleged that he was holding 10 of the remaining hostages “somewhere in Sulu.”

He asked the government to re-start negotiations and halt all military operations against the Abu Sayayf in exchange for the 10 hostages he claimed to have. There was no immediate confirmation of the man’s claims, nor any reaction from the military or the government.

May 3, 2000, Philippine Headline News, 2 Foreign Hostages Reported Dead,

Manila, May 3, 2000 Chief government negotiator Nur Misuari today said there were conflicting reportes about the casualties among 21 foreign hostages being held by Abu Sayyaf rebels in Jolo.

In a talk with newsmen, Misuari said the first report indicated two foreign hostages were wounded in the crossfire between the rebels and military troops.

Another report, Misuari said, confirmed that two foreigners died: one from shock upon hearing gunshots and another from sharpnel during the firefight. The second report also said two others were wounded.

A military spokesman said they were still checking the reports and there was yet no independent confirmation available on the report that a white woman and a white man had died.

The local ABS-CBN TV station in Jolo received a report from someone claiming to be with the Abu Sayyaf.

"They emphasized they did not kill the hostages. The man died of a stray bullet and the woman of a heart attack," the report said.

The battle between the forces of "Commander Robot" and the military began yesterday and went on through the night. As of this morning, there were still shots being heard from the area.

It started hours after a caller to a local radio station who claimed to be one of the rebels said they would behead two foreign captives unless the troops were pulled back.

Officials said one soldier was killed and seven were wounded in the clashes.

Some 2,000 troops have ringed the camp where the hostages are kept and the high tension has led to sporadic exchanges of fire with the rebels. But Tuesday's shootout was the first time there were casualties.

The fighting occurred 300 meters (yards) from where the hostages were thought to be kept on Jolo island, Nur Misuari told reporters.

"They're in a fighting mood, in a killer's mood so it's very dangerous but... we will see how we can penetrate," he added.

May 3, 2000, [04:16 GMT 05:16 UK] BBC News, Fears for Philippines hostages,

Confusion surrounds the fate of two foreign hostages reported dead by their Islamic rebel captors in the southern Philippines.

A rebel leader with the Abu Sayyaf group told local radio that a male captive had been accidentally shot during a clash with government forces and that a woman hostage had died of a heart attack.

Philippines Government officials initially confirmed the deaths to foreign diplomats, but later the provincial governor, Abdusakur Tan, denied anyone had died. He did not say how he had received the information.

The rebels are holding 21 people, including 10 foreign tourists, after capturing them from a Malaysian diving resort more than a week ago.

The nationality and identity of those reported dead was not given by their kidnappers.

Filipino military officials say the report may have been put out in an attempt to get the military to lift their siege of the rebel base.

The army has rejected rebel demands to pull back from around the rebel hideout on Jolo Island, which have been accompanied by threats to kill two of the foreign hostages.

On Tuesday, the guerrillas clashed with Philippine army soldiers, killing one and injuring four others.

Ten tourists from Europe, South Africa, and Lebanon, and resort workers from Malaysia and the Philippines are among those taken.

Phone threat

On Tuesday morning a man calling himself Abu Escobar and claiming to be a member of the rebel group threatened to behead two of the hostages if the security forces did not withdraw.

If the government does not pull back the soldiers, "we will surprise them," he told a local radio station. "Maybe two heads for tomorrow."

Television pictures have showed the captives, many of them suffering from diarrhoea and urinary tract infections, speaking of worsening conditions.

They appealed to the Philippine Government to order troops back and let the kidnappers to obtain more food for them.

The Abu Sayyaf is the smaller of two groups fighting for a separate Islamic state in the impoverished Mindanao region of the southern Philippines.

The 1,000-member guerrilla group have in the past kidnapped foreign missionaries and kept them in captivity for months at a time, both for cash and political profit.

Release offer

Other Abu Sayyaf rebels holding a separate group of 27 hostages in neighbouring Basilan island offered on Wednesday to release them if the military halts its pursuit.

Rebel spokesman Abu Ahmad told local radio that the group "wanted to concentrate on the negotiations for the other hostages" on Jolo.

He claimed the rebels and all 27 hostages, most of them children, had left Basilan.

The Philippine army overran the Abu Sayyaf base on Basilan earlier this week, but failed to locate the hostages. --BBC

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