Wednesday, August 15, 2012

May 8, 2000


May 8, 2000, Reuters, Hostages not in grave condition -Philippine doctor,
May 8, 2000, Reuters, Philippine rebels said considering freeing German
May 8, 2000, [21:16] AFP, Estrada dumps hostage negotiator, warns kidnappers,
May 8, 2000, [19:37] AFP, Philippine hostage negotiator replaced by Muslim cleric,
May 8, 2000, [19:06] AFP, Estrada warns Muslim extremists not to kill hostages
May 8, 2000, [20:40] AFP, Solana says Manila's reticence over his hostage mission lifted
May 8, 2000, [10:56] AFP, All hostages alive but German hostage "very sick": eyewitness
May 8, 2000, The Straits Times, Sipadan captors issue fresh demands Extremists in hostage drama want chief negotiator replaced, CNN coverage and participation by envoys, by Luz Baguioro and Yeoh En-Lai in Manila and Enrique Soriano in Jolo
May 8, 2000, The Straits Times, Inside the rebel camp...
May 8, 2000, New Straits Times, Frontpage: Negotiators want video of hostages, by Tony Emmanuel in Zamboanga,



May 8, 2000, Reuters, Hostages not in grave condition -Philippine doctor,

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, May 8 (Reuters) - A Philippine doctor who examined 21 mostly foreign hostages held by Islamic rebels said on Monday none of them was in grave medical condition but a German woman among them was very weak.

Huda Lim told Reuters that she saw the hostages, held in a jungle hideout surrounded by troops, at the weekend.

"They were all there. None of them was wounded except for bruises," she said. "None of them was in a grave condition."

Lim said the guerrillas, who have periodically exchanged fire with troops, turned down her appeal for the release of the German Renate Wallert on humanitarian grounds.

"Her blood pressure and heart beat were okay but she was very weak...and refused to take even water. We had to insert IV (intra-venous) fluids," she said.

"I tried my best to talk with them to release the German...They talked among themselves and then said it was not possible. I did not insist any more," Lim said.

The hostages -- nine Malaysians, three Germans, two French, two South Africans, two Finns and two Filipinos -- were on the 16th day of captivity on Jolo island, where the rebels took them after abducting them from a Malaysian diving resort.

Jolo, 960 km (600 miles) south of Manila, is a stronghold of fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf (Father of the Sword) rebels who are fighting for an Islamic state in the south of this mostly Roman Catholic country.

The revolt is one of the most serious challenges to President Joseph Estrada in his almost two years in power.

GERMAN REFUSES TO EAT

Lim said Wallert's husband and son, who are also hostages, told her Wallert had suffered two strokes but that she thought Wallert "probably had collapsed because she was not eating".

Concerns over the hostages' health mounted after Manila's ABS-CBN New Channel released dramatic television footage showing the hostages looking gaunt, haggard and weakened.

Wallert lay on a makeshift stretcher as other hostages made her drink from a plastic container.

"Please, please, let the press take her out, please," Lebanese hostage Marie Moarbes said on camera. "If they don't allow you, please send us the Red Cross, please. They won't shoot on the Red Cross...She can't take it any more."

Moarbes said Wallert had had three strokes in four days "and she's in a very critical situation".

Moarbes' father, who arrived in Manila last week, spoke on local radio DXRZ and appealed to the Abu Sayyaf to free his daughter and the other captives.

"Please release her in the name of humanity, in the name of Allah, the merciful, along with all the other hostages," the elder Moarbes said.

"I know they are all victims of circumstances...I hope you will respond to my appeal," he said. To his daughter, he said: "Keep your faith and strength."

As Philippine television played its footage of the Jolo hostage drama, thousands of Filipinos trooped to a Catholic church in Castillejos town north of Manila to view the remains of another a hostage, Catholic priest Ruel Gallardo.

The priest was one of four people whom the military said the rebels shot to death when soldiers launched a rescue operation on Wednesday to try to free 29 Filipino hostages, mostly schoolchildren, held by the Abu Sayyaf on Basilan island near Jolo.

Fifteen hostages were rescued while at least eight remained unaccounted for.

Military reports said the rebels pulled off the priest's toe nails and then shot him while his hands were tied.

"I am happy that I saw my son again," the priest's father, Dominador Gallardo said in a television interview. "But I am sad, not because he died but because of the thought of what they did to him, how they tortured him." --Reuters




May 8, 2000, Reuters, Philippine rebels said considering freeing German

JOLO, Philippines, May 8 (Reuters) - Moslem guerrillas holding 21 mostly foreign hostages in the southern Philippines are considering releasing an ailing German woman in the group, a government negotiator said on Monday.

A doctor who examined German national Renate Wallert at the weekend told reporters that she was "very weak" and had to be fed intravenously.

Istino Jairi Ayyobe, a member of a government panel trying to negotiate the release of the hostages, told Reuters an emissary met a rebel leader earlier on Monday and appealed for the release of Wallert on humanitarian grounds.

"They are still considering but they gave no specific date," Ayyobe said on Jolo island where the fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf guerrillas have been holding their captives for 16 days.

The hostages -- nine Malaysians, three Germans, two French, two South Africans, two Finns and two Filipinos -- were abducted on April 23 from a Malaysian diving resort and taken to Jolo, a rebel stronghold 960 km (600 miles) south of Manila. --Reuters


May 8, 2000, [21:16] AFP, Estrada dumps hostage negotiator, warns kidnappers,

JOLO, Philippines, May 8 (AFP) - 21:06 - President Joseph Estrada on Monday dumped his chief negotiator and warned Muslim extremists against killing or harming 10 tourists and 11 other captives as the Philippine hostage crisis pushed into its third week.

Estrada said he would reject any ransom, but added the government was prepared to consider community development projects" for the southern island of Jolo, where the gunmen are holed up with their captives.

The Filipino leader was due to receive former NATO secretary-general Javier Solana in Manila on Tuesday when the top-level European Union emissary was expected to convey the 15 nation group's concern over the safety of the hostages which includes seven Europeans.

Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon said some European governments had also asked the Organization of Islamic Conference, the main grouping of Muslim countries, to help Manila negotiate with the kidnappers.

Estrada urged the kidnappers to abide by an Islamic tenet that "only combatants must be targeted and that prisoners of war or captives are neither to be injured nor tortured, much less killed."

The rebels should "allow teams from the Malaysian-based Red Crescent, the Philippine National Red Cross or any other legitimate non-government or civic organizations to attend to the weak and sick among their hostages," he said in a statement.

Chief hostage negotiator Nur Misuari told reporters Estrada has asked him to step aside in favor of a local cleric, Ghazali Ibrahim.

Misuari, a former Muslim rebel leader, had failed to establish direct contact with the extremist Abu Sayyaf who had repeatedly threatened to behead some of their captives unless he was replaced.

A Misuari aide, Abdurahman Jamasali, will stay on to serve as Ibrahim's link to the rebels, he added.

"I think these people are in a better place than I am," said Misuari, who did not say precisely why he was being replaced but indicated that his successor would be able to move around more freely.

Nine Malaysians, three Germans, two each from France, Finland, South Africa and the Philippines and a Lebanese woman were into their third week in the tropical jungle of this southern Philippine island. They were snatched from a Malaysian dive resort on Easter Sunday.

News of Misuari's departure came hours after his men appealed to the kidnappers to release two Europeans who require urgent medical treatment.

German woman Renate Wallert needed hospital treatment for hypertension, while Frenchman Stephane Loisy is suffering from a urinary tract infection, a government doctor who visited the camp said last week.

"We tried two times to ask them to release them. They told us they'll decide when we get there," Misuari aide Nur Mutalib told reporters here.

However, they have made it clear there would be no deal unless government troops stopped advancing on the hideout, Mutalib added.

The rebels have yet to make known their full demands.

Foreign Secretary Siazon said Solana was expected to convey EU's wish "to see a peaceful and early resolution of the hostage situation and of course they would not wish to see a military solution to this particular situation."

A separate German government envoy to the hostage crisis, Cornelius Sommer, told AFP he believes Solana was expected to ask Estrada, Siazon and Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado to "continue with the humanitarian effort" as well as to "urge that no action be taken which could jeopardize and threaten the lives of the hostages."

"I believe that the military has taken the right approach in dealing with the hostage situation," Estrada said Monday.

Manila was "closely coordinating with the governments of the hostages concerned. Of course we are open to other suggestions from the other governments that will lead to the speedy and satisfactory resolution of the hostage situation." --AFP



May 8, 2000, [19:37] AFP, Philippine hostage negotiator replaced by Muslim cleric,

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, May 8 (AFP) - 19:37 - The chief negotiator in the Philippine hostage crisis, Nur Misuari, said Monday he had been replaced by a Muslim cleric in the southern Philippines.

Misuari told reporters President Joseph Estrada appointed Ghazali Ibrahim, a respected religious leader in western Mindanao, to take over from him in all negotiations with the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf.

The Abu Sayyaf are holding 21 hostages on the nearby island of Jolo.

There was no immediate reaction from Estrada on Misuari's announcement.

Abdurahman Jamasali, a senior aide of Misuari who is the governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, will be the "official emissary" of Ibrahim, Misuari said.

Misuari did not say precisely why he was being replaced but indicated that his successor would be able to move around more freely.

"For the moment, I think these people are in a better place that I am," Misuari said, adding that Ibrahim and Jamasali could travel "without a single security escort."

"They can travel without security, while me I'm full of armed men," he added.

Estrada flew here on Sunday for talks with Misuari and sources said earlier he was given an ultimatum to break the impasse over the hostage crisis, which entered its 15th day on Monday. --AFP



May 8, 2000, [19:06] AFP, Estrada warns Muslim extremists not to kill hostages

MANILA, May 8 (AFP) - 19:06 - Philippine President Joseph Estrada on Monday warned Muslim extremists against killing or torturing the 10 tourists and 11 other hostages they are holding in the southern Philippines.

He also urged them to allow the Red Cross to deliver food, water and medical aid to the hostages, some of whom are seriously ill.

Estrada said in a statement that Muslim fighters were supposed to abide by an Islamic tenet that "only combatants must be targeted and that prisoners of war or captives are neither to be injured nor tortured, much less killed."

"With this in mind, I am calling on the Abu Sayyaf to allow volunteer medical groups to enter the areas of conflict in Mindanao and deliver water, food and medical assistance to the innocent civilians now in their
captivity."

The rebel group snatched the hostages from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan on April 23 and are holding them in dire conditions in a jungle camp in the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

The captives include nationals from Malaysia, Germany, France, Finland, South Africa, Lebanon and the Philippines.

Estrada urged the rebel group "to allow teams from the Malaysian-based Red Crescent, the Philippine National Red Cross or any other legitimate non-government or civic organizations to minister to the weak and sick among their hostages."

Estrada stressed that his call was issued "for purely humanitarian reasons".

"The lives of the remaining hostages should be spared as the government pursues all measures toward the speedy resolution of this conflict."

Earlier Monday government negotiators appealed to the Abu Sayyaf to release two Europeans who require urgent medical treatment. --AFP



May 8, 2000, [20:40] AFP, Solana says Manila's reticence over his hostage mission lifted

BRUSSELS, May 8 (AFP) - 20:40 - Javier Solana, the European Union's envoy to the Philippines over the hostage crisis, said Monday that misunderstandings between Manila and the EU over his mission had been cleared.

Philippine President Joseph Estrada had warned EU ministers on Sunday that Solana's mission could exacerbate the already tense crisis, in which 21 hostages including five Europeans are being held by Muslim extremists on Jolo island.

Solana, the EU's security and foreign policy advisor, said Estrada made the comments before the decision was taken to send Solana to the Philippines.

The Philippine authorities have now "realised what the mission is about and the misunderstanding has been cleared," Solana told reporters just before he left for Manila.

He said the authorities were "pleased to see the interest the EU was taking in the situation."

Solana, who is due to arrive in the Philippines Tuesday, said he would not have any contact with the captors, members of the Abu Sayyaf group.

"There will be no mediation at this stage. I will be in contact only with the Philippine authorities to see how we can help guarantee the lives and the security of the hostages," he said. foreign ministers Sunday, showed that the EU "was moving towards a common policy towards the rest of the world."

Estrada's spokesman, Ricardo Puno, had said the involvement of such a high-profile official could embolden the rebels.

"The more we give a lot of publicity to this particular problem, the more these people might exploit the situation to get publicity in the media," he said.

The hostage crisis is now into its 15th day. --AFP



May 8, 2000, [10:56] AFP, All hostages alive but German hostage "very sick": eyewitness

JOLO, Philippines, May 8 (AFP) - 10:56 - All 10 foreign tourists and 11 others held hostage by a group of Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines are alive despite claims by the gunmen that two died during a clash with the military, a television crew which saw them reported Monday.

But after more than two weeks in captivity, the hostages are "hungry, sick and numb to the harsh reality of their environment," the local ABS-CBN network reported after its team visited the Abu Sayyaf hideout on Jolo island late Saturday.

One of three German hostages, Renate Wallert, was "very sick and is believed to have suffered a stroke," ABS-CBN said.

The footage was filmed late Saturday as the kidnappers attempted to break out of a military cordon thrown around them in the jungle of this southern Philippine island.

"All the hostages are alive but the German woman is very sick," said Israel Cando, a journalist among the TV crew which interviewed the hostages.

Wallert and two other family members, nine Malaysians, two French nationals, two Finnish men, a South African couple, a Lebanese woman and two Filipinos were seized by the Abu Sayyaf from a Malaysian dive resort on Easter Sunday.

They were taken across the sea border to the southern island of Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf claimed last week that two foreigners among the hostages had died, saying one was hit by stray bullets and another had suffered a heart attack when the group clashed with troops.

ABS-CBN Monday said the condition of the hostages had worsened, comparing their interview to footage taken nearly a week ago by another television crew showing them in a more cheerful mood beside a medical team and food supplies.

Amid machine gun fire and the intermittent whistle of incoming mortar shells, the footage showed the suffering Wallert on a stretcher on the ground beneath a coconut grove.

The woman grimaced as a fellow hostage lifted her upper body out of the stretcher to help her drink.

Fellow hostages fanned her and wiped her sweat. All looked gaunt and had a resigned look on their faces. The men had two weeks' facial hair growth.

Wallert, who doctors say is suffering from hypertension, was wearing awhite T-shirt, on which was apparently scrawled the signatures of her fellow hostages.

In the background Abu Sayyaf gunmen ran in an orderly file.

Lebanese hostage Marie Michele Moarbes was seen trying to comfort the ailing German "but with the shelling happening around her, it's quite hard to comfort anyone at all," ABS-CBN said.

"Please advise the embassies, the German embassy, anybody, just help and end the hostage crisis. This is the most urgent thing today for us," Moarbes was seen saying.

A Philippine government doctor, who led the first medical mission on May 1 to visit the hostages in the Abu Sayyaf hideout, appealed to the kidnappers to allow Wallert's medical evacuation.

Nelsa Amin said the kidnappers sent an emissary on Saturday requesting her to return to check on the German woman.

"If I go there I want to get an assurance that they will allow me to bring back the woman because it's useless going there without bringing her back here where she can be treated properly," the doctor told AFP.

As the plight of the hostages was broadcast, the government came under further pressure to resolve the crisis, which entered its 15th day Monday with no formal contact yet between chief negotiator Nur Misuari and the rebels.

Philippine President Joseph Estrada flew to the southern city of Zamboanga and met Misuari on Sunday amid reports the negotiator had been given 48 hours to resolve the situation.

The European Union also announced the dispatch to Manila of former NATO secretary general Javier Solana, its top representative on security and foreign policy, amid concern military action could endanger the captives' lives.

But the Abu Sayyaf rebels gave no indication of relenting as a separate group massacred 13 soldiers Sunday in an ambush in Basilan island, north of here. --AFP



May 8, 2000, The Straits Times, Sipadan captors issue fresh demands Extremists in hostage drama want chief negotiator replaced, CNN coverage and participation by envoys, by Luz Baguioro and Yeoh En-Lai in Manila and Enrique Soriano in Jolo

MUSLIM extremists holding 21 mostly-foreign hostages in a southern Philippines jungle yesterday issued fresh demands for the release of their captives, but stressed money was not one of them.

Abu Sayyaf leader Galib Andang, alias "Commander Robot", told a Filipino journalist visiting the rebels' jungle lair in Jolo island that his group wanted chief presidential aide Ronaldo Zamora to replace Muslim leader Nur Misuari as the chief negotiator.

In a written demand signed by its leaders, the radical group also sought coverage of the talks by the CNN television network and the participation of envoys from countries involved in the crisis along with several Filipino-Muslim leaders.

ABS-CBN journalist Israel Cando told The Straits Times after returning from the rebel camp in the forest village of Samak: "They made it clear they don't want money, and that it would take more than six months to end the crisis." There was no immediate government reaction to the new demands, which were issued as President Joseph Estrada struggled to cope with increasing international pressure, particularly from the European Union and Malaysia, to bring about an end to the three-week-old kidnap crisis.

Mr Estrada, wearing sunglasses and a camouflage army uniform, yesterday flew to Zamboanga city in the violence-rocked southern Philippines to meet Mr Misuari and to personally assess stalled efforts to secure the release of two separate groups of hostages seized by the Abu Sayyaf.

"If they want peace in Mindanao, we will give them peace.

"But if the rebels and the criminals here persist in carrying out terroristic and criminal acts, we will give them the full might of our Armed Forces of the Philippines and our police force," he said.

Governments with captive nationals in Jolo worry that some hostages may not survive their ordeal and have rebuked Manila for its failure so far to even start formal negotiations for their release.

A government doctor who visited the rebel hideout on May 1 recommended the immediate hospitalisation of two hostages -- Frenchman Stephane Loisy, who is "already urinating blood", and 57-year-old female German tourist Renate Wallert, who risked a stroke.

Television footage aired here last night showed her being carried on a stretcher during a firefight on Saturday as the rebels tried to break out of a military cordon. The European Union yesterday also said it was dispatching its chief foreign policy adviser, Mr Javier Solana, to the Philippines. But Manila is worried that his arrival would only embolden the Abu Sayyaf gunmen, by giving them the publicity they crave.

Malaysia last week offered to be involved directly in the negotiations, which have not yet began because of conditions set by the kidnappers and Mr Misuari.

Western governments have warned Philippine authorities against using force to liberate the hostages.

Despite the plea, military troops yesterday continued to close in on the kidnappers and shelled their suspected lairs in the towns of Talipao, Patikul and Indanan.

A fresh gunbattle also left at least one soldier dead, bringing the number of government casualties to three since a military cordon was thrown around the rebel stronghold two weeks ago. --Straits Times



May 8, 2000, The Star, New clash: Latest fight occurs after delivery of medicines

JOLO: Fighting erupted anew yesterday between government troops and Abu Sayaff rebels holding 21 Sipadan hostages soon after President Joseph Estrada directed the armed forces to avoid any offensive.

At least five mortar rounds slammed close to the area where the hostages had been moved to and a television cameraman told reporters that an Abu Sayyaf rebel was hurt in the shelling.


The latest military offensive began just after a second medical mission led by Dr Huda Lim delivered medicines donated by the Malaysian Government and others to the hostages late Saturday.

Reporters accompanying Dr Lim said all 21 hostages appealed to the Philippine Government to halt military operations so that negotiations could resume.

The hostages and their captors evaded a military clash at the previous hide-out several days ago by crawling through the forest on their hands and knees.

Most of the hostages appeared exhausted. Some wore the same clothes they had on when they were visited by journalists a week earlier. Others wore clothes provided by the rebels.

They hostages said they were generally all right, but were often depressed. Most said they needed clean clothes and water, and personal care items.

The hostages are being held outdoors in a pig-pen like cages made of tree branches in the foothills of a small mountain near Talipao.

The Asians and no-Asians were separated into two cages.

One hostage, Renate Wallert of Germany, was allowed by the rebels to lie in a plastic hammock because of back and other health problems.

While the mission was at the camp, four top Abu Sayyaf leaders drafted and signed a letter to Estrada rejecting the government-appointed negotiator, Nur Misuari.

The rebels demanded instead to negotiate with presidential executive secretary Ronaldo Zamora and with the ambassadors of the hostages, as well as representatives of Libya, the United Nations and the Organisation of
Islamic Conference.

The letter urged the government to respond immediately so that the hostages could be released as quickly as possible but did not mention any demands, including ransom.

In Zamboanga City, Estrada, on a one-day visit here to personally take charge of the hostage situation, refused to allow international envoys to help in negotiations, saying that it would only "embolden'' the Abu Sayyaf.

Philippine armed forces chief Gen Angelo Reyes said any military action would be considered if the hostage situation persisted for too long and negotiations hit a stonewall.

"If we estimate our chances of rescuing the hostages safely was good, perhaps a decision will have to be made,'' he said when asked what would provoke the military to go into an offensive. --The Star



May 8, 2000, The Straits Times, Inside the rebel camp...

The 21 hostages tell journalists they are weak and depressed, and reveal how they evaded the army operations

JOLO -- A group of 21 hostages, including 10 foreign tourists, being held on a southern Philippine island say they are weak and depressed, and appealed to the Philippine government to halt all military operations so that negotiations for their release can begin.

The hostages told two visiting Associated Press journalists that they and their Muslim rebel captors evaded a military clash at their previous hide-out several days ago by crawling through the forest on their hands and knees.

Both their hands and legs were still badly bruised.

They were being held outdoors in a cage made of tree branches in the foothills of a small mountain near Talipao on Jolo island.

The pigpen-like cage was divided into two, with the foreign tourists in one half and Asians in the other.

One hostage, Renate Wallert of Germany, was allowed by the rebels to lie in a plastic hammock because of back and other health problems.

More than 100 Abu Sayyaf guerillas armed with M-16 rifles, grenades and long knives roamed the area, surrounded by coconut trees.

Some were setting up a row of tents made of blue rice sacks while others cooked rice over firewood.

The hostages include three Germans, two French nationals, two South Africans, two Finns and one Lebanese in addition to nine Malaysians and two Filipinos.

They were kidnapped from a Malaysian diving resort two weeks ago and brought by boat to Jolo, about one hour away.

Many of the hostages appeared exhausted. Some wore the same clothes they had been wearing when they were visited by journalists a week earlier.

Others were wearing clothes provided by the rebels.

They described themselves as being generally all right, but often depressed, and said they needed clothes, clean water and personal care items.

The hostages urged the Philippine military to stop all operations in the area.

Several wrote letters to their families or to their ambassadors urging them to ask the Philippine government to find a peaceful solution.

Meanwhile, the official negotiator for the Philippines government, Nur Misuari said authorities were prepared to send more medicine and food to the hostages after the Lebanese hostage, a woman, pleaded for assistance.-- AP



May 8, 2000, New Straits Times, Frontpage: Negotiators want video of hostages, by Tony Emmanuel in Zamboanga,

MON.- Negotiators involved in the on-going discussions with rebels holding hostages in the Philippines' Southern region will forward a demand for a second video recording to verify the safety of those being held captive.

"There have been too many contradicting reports on their well-being and we feel this demand is justified," a defence official said today.

"They can assure us but documentated evidence would be a bonus to put at ease the anxiety of families of those being held captive."

The rebels, he added, had allowed such a recording before and there was no reason why they would decline a similar request.

This is expected to be one of several requests forwarded to negotiators by senior officials accompanying President Joseph Estrada during his visit to the region today.

Authorities have taken this stance as the last confirmed contact with 21 hostages - Malaysians and foreigners held captive since being taken at gunpoint on Easter Sunday from Pulau Sipadan - was on May 1.

A rebel spokesmen told the media here that the hostages were taken, following a medical examination by a local doctor on that day, to a rebel camp in Mount Dahu, within the Talipao area.

Using the cover of a unilateral ceasefire, Estrada left for Zamboanga, reportedly the safest city in the southern region, this morning.

Escorted by a heavily armed presidential security detail, Estrada was accompanied by Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado, Armed Forces chief Gen Angelo Reyes, Philippine Armed Forces (Division One) commanding officer Brig-Gen Narciso Abaya and senior officers.

Defence officials have expressed their sentiments over the purported ceasefire and have said they were not easily hoodwinked.

"Ceasefire or not ... we are bracing ourselves for further incidents involving the extremists."

Coincidentally, when the ceasefire was announced, authorities, not wanting to take any chances, stepped up security in the Philippines capital, Manila, and at both the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and its neighbouring domestic terminals.

"We will not rest on our laurels and assume they (the rebel faction) are sincere in their ceasefire accord," a defence official said.

(The 48-hour ceasefire announced by the Moro Islamic Libreation Front on Friday, came into effect just after dawn Saturday.)

While Estrada announced that he would assess the announcement, the Philippine Armed Forces in a swift response said the call by the MILF was not to be heeded.

Even Defence Secretary Mercado said the sincerity of the ceasefire was seriously being doubted.

His fears were not unfounded as during the 48-hour unilateral ceasefire six people were killed on Saturday in 12 bomb blasts reported in the southern region, including four reported in Zamboanga.

Col Jamie Canatoy, who heads the Armed Forces Public Affairs Services, said judging from previous experience, the proposed ceasefire announced was to enable both the MILF and Abu Sayyaf rebels an opportunity to fortify their present strength and plan strategic redeployment.

"Their (the rebels) calls for a ceasefire are merely a deception to enable them to pursue their objectives," he said when met at Camp Aquinaldo in Quezon City.

While acknowledging that negotiations could realise a solution to problems in the southern region, Col Canatoy said this would only see light if the rebels ceased to expand, increase their strength and fortify their camps.

The MILF have been waging a long drawn battle against the Philippine Government for an autonomous Muslim State in the South while the Abu Sayyaf faction pulled off the Easter Sunday hostage taking incident on Pulau Sipadan.

In the April 23 incident, 21 people, including 12 foreigners, were taken captive at gunpoint to the Philippines.

Philippine authorities are taking a cautious approach in dealing with the hostage crisis after intelligence revealed that both rebel groups were in cohorts in the taking of hostages in separate incidents over the past two months. --New Straits Times




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