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21 June 2000 - The Manila Times
THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) cannot stop foreign governments from paying ransom for the release of their nationals being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Sulu, according to Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr.

While insisting that the Estrada administration policy of "no ransom" still stands, he nevertheless admitted: "We cannot stop them (foreign governments) from paying ransom. That's a determination that has to be made by those governments because the kidnappers have their nationals as hostages.

Siazon told reporters that the DFA already informed the foreign governments whose nationals are held by the terrorists about President Estrada's no-ransom policy.

The terrorists are holding mostly foreign hostages consisting of two Germans, two Finns, three French, two South Africans, nine Malaysians and one Lebanese as well as two Filipinos.

The terrorists kidnapped them from the Malaysian dive resort island of Sipadan off Sabah on Easter Sunday and brought them to Jolo, Sulu, about an hour away by boat.

"I just have to believe what Germany, Malaysia and Finland said. They indicated clearly a no-ransom policy. But if they wanted to pay ransom, then what can I do. These are foreign governments; we can't impose our (no ransom) stand," Siazon admitted.

In Malacañang, Press Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the government supports the decision of the negotiating panel to suspend the delivery of foods and medicine until the terrorists reveal where the hostages are being kept.

"We know they are in Talipao but that is a big area," Puno said. "But if you don't know where the hostages are, you may just wind up feeding the entire Abu Sayyaf contingent. So they may end up very healthy and very rosy cheeks.

Earlier, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora insisted that the government is not backing out from its "no ransom" policy regarding hostage-takers.

Zamora made the clarification following reports that he had confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf terrorists have demanded a $l-million ransom each for the mostly foreign 2l hostages they have been keeping in their forested lair on Sulu Island.

The Palace official was quoted as saying in a radio interview Monday that while the government and terrorists have been discussing their political demands, including a separate Islamic state in Mindanao, they eventually have to haggle over ransom.

He admitted that President Estrada asked him yesterday whether he really confirmed reports of the terrorists' demand for a $l-million ransom each for the hostages kidnapped from the Malaysian island dive resort of Sipadan off Sabah last April 23.
--Joel San Juan and Faber Concepcion 

22 June 2000 - AP

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Muslim rebels have reunited their 21 hostages in the southern Philippines, nearly two weeks after separating them because of fears of a military rescue attempt, the government's chief negotiator said Wednesday.

"We just got the report that they have regrouped the hostages,'' Robert Aventajado said.

He said the captives are under the control of two Abu Sayyaf rebel commanders at a mountain hide-out on Jolo island.

The rebels seized the captives - three Germans, two French, two Finns, two South Africans, a Lebanese, nine Malaysians and two Filipinos - from a Malaysian resort near Jolo on April 23.

The rebels moved the Western hostages to another location 13 days ago, leaving the Asian captives at a jungle camp in Talipao.

The move came after Aventajado said the government had not ruled out a military rescue if talks with the rebels failed. The rebels also demanded Aventajado be removed as chief negotiator.

Aventajado later clarified his remarks, saying the negotiators were not advocating any military action. On Saturday the rebels agreed to continue dealing with him.

Official negotiations remain suspended as part of a ``cooling off period'' declared by the government after the rebel demands began escalating, Aventajado said.

Presidential Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora has said the rebels are demanding at least $1 million for each captive.

Talks between the government and the rebels have focused so far on the guerrillas' political demands, including a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines. Aventajado has often reiterated the government's policy of not paying ransom to kidnappers.

The rebels also are demanding the protection of traditional fishing grounds from large trawlers, many of which are foreign-owned, and the formation of a commission to examine the problems of Filipino Muslims living in neighboring Malaysia.

The Abu Sayyaf is the smaller but more radical of two Muslim secessionist groups fighting for a homeland in the southern Philippines.

The larger group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has indefinitely postponed peace talks scheduled to resume June 28 because of a military offensive against their forces. The rebels say the attack hampered their efforts to consult members on a proposed political settlement offered by the government.

Armed forces vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Jose Calimlim has accused the rebels of stalling the talks to gain time to rearm after a series of battle setbacks.

President Joseph Estrada said Wednesday he will extend a June 30 deadline for a peace deal only if the rebels abandon the goal of seceding from the country and halt attacks.

An MILF spokesman, Eid Kabalu, said the group does not accept Estrada's condition or recognize the deadline for the peace talks.

Despite having 20 projects near areas of intense fighting between rebels and the military, the Philippines' major international donors have reported no major setbacks with development projects in the impoverished south, officials say.

To affirm their support, donor countries and multilateral agencies announced a fresh pledge of $2.6 billion for the Philippines on Tuesday, with $375 million allocated for projects in the southern region of Mindanao.

22 June 2000 - The Straits Times Interactive
"WE WON'T STOP OTHER GOVTS FROM PAYING RANSOM" Manila says it will not pay to free the hostages, but other states can do so to release their nationals if they want

MANILA -- While the Philippines itself is sticking to its no-ransom policy, it will not prevent other governments from paying for the release of their nationals held by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in a southern Philippines jungle, said Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon.

""If you start paying ransom officially, as a government policy, you'll have more kidnappings,'' he warned.

""But if they want to pay ransom, then what can I do? These are foreign governments. We can't impose our stand. That's a determination that has to be made by themselves because their nationals are hostages.''

But Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said yesterday that Finland, France and Germany would not pay a ransom for the release of their nationals.

""In some respects, we hoped the Philippine government had better control of the situation, but now is not the time nor place to air a motion of no confidence,'' the minister said.

""We must work as closely as possible with the Philippine government.''

Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, chief aide to President Joseph Estrada, had earlier warned the various national leaders against paying ransom to secure the release of their citizens.

""If we reduce the problem to a sum of money, at some future date they would just resort to new kidnappings,'' he said.

But despite vehement denials by government negotiators and Islamic militants, most believed the hostage crisis would be resolved monetarily.

Under intense international pressure, Manila is believed to have already begun discussions with Abu Sayyaf on payment to bring the kidnap crisis to an end, despite worries of encouraging more frequent cases of similar kidnap-for-money incidents.

""The government is as much a hostage as the ones held in Jolo,'' Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado said, amid growing complaints over the lack of progress.

In its official statements, Abu Sayyaf insists it has only political demands.

But certain leaders of the rebels told government emissaries they wanted US$1 million (S$1.7 million) for each of the 21 hostages.

An offer was recently made to free the five women among the hostages for 200 million pesos (S$8 million).

Mr Siazon said last month that the kidnappers were demanding US$2 million for the release of ailing German tourist Renate Wallert, who is suffering from hypertension.

He also revealed the government was seeking a ""package deal'' for all the captives.

Although chief government negotiator Roberto Aventajado denied Mr Siazon's revelations, remarks by other officials confirm suspicions the hostage crisis is just all about money.

"This is a simple kidnap-for-ransom case,'' Philippine National Police chief Panfilo Lacson said.

"These political demands are just a facade. Actually, the bottom line is dollars,'' he said earlier this month.

Indeed, money was the key to ending previous Abu Sayyaf kidnappings.

In all cases, ransom was paid by relatives or ""kindhearted civilians''.

But payment was euphemistically described as reimbursement for the ""board and lodging'' expenses of the hostages while in captivity.

Aware of this, other governments have reportedly explored the option of redeeming their nationals through unofficial channels.

Press reports claimed Malaysian-backed negotiators had offered US$300,000 for each of the nine Malaysian hostages.

On Sunday, a German newspaper reported that Berlin was preparing aid equivalent to a ransom in the form of technical support for infrastructure projects in Jolo.

German officials did not confirm the report.

23 June 2000 - The Manila Times
By Faber Concepcion

ZAMBOANGA CITY— Government emissaries are meeting “one on one” with Abu Sayyaf leaders in Sulu in a bid to have rebels get their act together before negotiations resume for the release of 21 Asian and western hostages.

“The emissaries have been meeting discretely with Abu Sayyaf factions, also to reassure them that the government is always ready to sit down with them,” an aide of government chief negotiator Robert Aventajado said yesterday.

Aventajado is expected to arrive here today (Friday) together with Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan before proceeding to Jolo town for possible reopening of release negotiations.

Meantime, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora said government negotiators would offer Muslim separatists holding 21 Western and Asian hostages government projects instead of ransom.

He added the governments of the foreign hostages held on Jolo Island for nearly two months could help by sending medicine and food to the captives, but they could not meddle in negotiations.

“There will come a time when they will demand a ransom and we would ask them not to seek ransom but social development projects,” Zamora said in a radio interview.

The government has a policy of not paying ransom to kidnappers. On Monday, Zamora said the Abu Sayyaf rebels have demanded at least $1 million for each captive but stressed that the government would stick to its policy.

“We have to make sure what are really their actual demands before talks resume,” the source said, saying the kidnappers were still undecided on their final list of demands.

“We’d like the negotiations to proceed smoothly; it’s been a long time for the hostages,” he added.

Abu Sayyaf rebels seized tourist and resort workers in Sipadan Island, Malaysia, last April 23.

“The rebels change their demands oftentimes, and they show inconsistencies on what they really want” a ranking official of the Sulu provincial government, said on condition of anonymity. He also cited rifts and divisions among Abu Sayyaf commanders as a reason for the delay in release efforts.

“There is a problem between the group of Ghalib Andang alias Commander Robot and the faction of Commander Sahiron Radullan, the one armed bandit,” the source said.

23 June 2000 - AP

JOLO, Philippines (AP)--President Joseph Estrada's chief aide said Thursday that negotiators would offer Muslim separatists holding 21 Western and Asian hostages government projects instead of ransom.

Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora also said the governments of the foreign hostages held on Jolo Island for nearly two months could help by sending medicine and food to the captives, but they couldn't meddle in negotiations.

"There will come a time when they will demand a ransom and we would ask them not to seek ransom, but social development projects," Zamora said in a radio interview.

The government has a policy of not paying ransom to kidnappers. Monday, Zamora said the Abu Sayyaf rebels have demanded at least US$1 million for each captive, but stressed that the government would stick to its policy.

The rebels are holding three Germans, two French, two Finns, two South Africans, a Lebanese, nine Malaysians and two Filipinos seized April 23 from the Malaysian diving resort of Sipadan, an hour by boat from Jolo.

23 June 2000 - AFP

JOLO (Philippines) -- As an international hostage crisis enters into its third month, the Philippine government said yesterday that it expects to wear down the Muslim extremist kidnappers into settling for a straight cash-for-captives swop.

President Joseph Estrada's chief aide, Mr Ronaldo Zamora, said that although there is currently no such discussion regarding the ransom, the Muslim rebels' demands might no longer be political as they would also demand ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf has formally tabled political demands, most of them deemed by the government as ""impossible'' -- including the establishment of an Islamic nation in the southern Philippines.

Some of the guerilla leaders have told government emissaries informally that they would free the hostages for US$21 million (S$36.5 million), emissaries said.

Executive Secretary Zamora said in a radio interview yesterday that as soon as the rebels formally table a demand for ransom, government negotiators would persuade them to convert the ransom into development projects for Jolo island.

Manila has failed to make any headway in its efforts to convince the guerilla group to free their Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Lebanese, Malaysian and South African hostages.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon said yesterday that Manila is against ransom as ""it would prolong the negotiations''.

However, Manila would not stand in the way if foreign governments were to ""strike their own deals'' and offer cash to the rebels to redeem their citizens.

The hostages were taken from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan on April 23 and shipped to the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf styles itself as independence fighters, but the police consider them ordinary bandits and pirates. --AFP

23 June 2000; 15.09 pm - Bernama

KOTA KINABALU, June 23 Bernama -- Pos Malaysia Bhd in collaboration with the Philippine postal authorities will arrange a special delivery of letters from loved ones in Sabah to the Malaysian hostages being held by armed men in Talipao, Jolo, Southern Philippines.

The Malaysians K.Balachandran, Fong Yin Ken, Zulkarnain Hashim, Abdul Jawah Sulawat, Francis Masangkim, Basilius Jim, Kua Yu Loong, Vincent Kwong and Lee Hock Leong along with 12 foreigners were abducted by the gunmen from Pulau Sipadan exactly two months ago on April 23.

Pos Malaysia Bhd Manager for Sabah Shahri Jikun said the Philippine postal authorities had agreed to help in the delivery of the letters to the hostages.

He said two Pos Malaysia officers would leave for Manila Saturday with the letters and from there they would fly to Zamboanga.

"In Zamboanga,they will hand over the letters to the local post master who will then find a channel to pass on the letters to the hostages," he told reporters when collecting letters from Balachandran's wife Stephanie Soimbin in Putatan, near here.

A representative of the "Persatuan Wanita dan Isteri Pos" (Puteri Pos) accompanied Shahri to the house to provide aid to Balachandran's family.

Families of the hostages from Semporna and Tawau also sent in their letters to the Pos Malaysia branches in their respective areas for delivery tomorrow.

Shahri said Pos Malaysia Bhd sympathised with the families of the hostages and so had come up with this special delivery mission.

24 June 2000 - New Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR, Thurs. - Reports of arms deals concluded here, and a Malaysian businessman reportedly funding the Abu Sayyaf rebel movement in Southern Philippines, has raised eyebrows.

"This is news to me...," was Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Norian Mai's response when asked to comment on the media reports from the Philippines.

He was speaking to the Press after officiating the Police-Lion's Club Charity Run at the Federal police headquarters in Bukit Aman.

On the reported arms deal between the rebels and North Korea concluded by an arms dealer here, Norian said such reports would have to be verified.

An AFP report from Manila yesterday read that the Philippines would query North Korea over an alleged arms deal with Filipino Muslim rebels, ahead of establishing any bilateral ties.

"We have sent our ambassadors to Beijing and Bangkok to get in touch with North Korean counterparts," the report quoted the republic's Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon as saying.

The envoys were instructed to check on allegations of a possible purchase by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front of sophisticated weapons from North Korea.

"If the allegation is confirmed, the North Korean Government would be asked to spike the deal," Siazon was quoted as saying.

Early this week, Philippines Armed Forces vice chief of staff Lieutenant General Jose Calimlim claimed that the MILF last month, received US$3 million (RM11.4m) from alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden.

"The MILF then discussed the possible purchase of anti-tank and anti- aircraft weapons with a North Korean official

"A MILF rebel met with the North Korean official and an alleged arms dealer from Malaysia on May 16, to discuss the purchase and the meeting reportedly took place at a hotel in Malaysia," Calimlim was reported to have said. Norian said checks would have to be carried out to establish whether such an official did indeed enter the country, adding that this could be done by checking travel documents.

On Monday, Philippine media reports, attributed to intelligence sources, read that a wealthy Malaysian businessman was the financier of the Abu Sayyaf rebel movement, active in Jolo, Southern Philippines.

Identified as a certain `Commander Kalam Camos', the report which apppeared on the front page of Monday's edition of Today, a morning broadsheet, however did not say what business Camos was engaged in, or whether he has other business interests in Mindanao. Siazon yesterday also castigated the military for leaking its intelligence report to the Press without first consulting President Joseph Estrada's cabinet.

"Intelligence should not normally be discussed in the Press. The normal practice is for this to be given to us and we get in touch with the government in whose territory the transaction was made, or the government which is involved and whose national is reportedly involved."

Checks by the New Straits Times revealed that a certain `Commander Kalam Camos' was presently in Panamao, Jolo, together with Commander Mobin Abdurajak.

"Both were identified as members of the Abu Sayyaf rebel movement and this information is known to those in the Philippines National Intelligence Co-ordinating Agency," a source told the NST.

They (both commanders) are expected to assume responsibility of keeping watch over Malaysian and Philippine hostages presently held captive in Talipao.

"Plans are underway to facilitate the transfer of the hostages to Panamao," the source said.

Confirming that intelligence reports identified Camos to be a wealthy businessman, the source said it could not be verified if he was a Malaysian. "What is known is that he is a long time resident of Sandakan."

24 June 2000 - AFP

JOLO, Philippines (AFP) - A Malaysian Red Crescent mission has been given the go-ahead to resume food and medicine deliveries to Asian hostages held by Filipino Muslim extremists, mission members said Friday.

They said, however, that they had not yet received clearance to visit the westerners among the 21 hostages held by Abu Sayyaf rebels in southern Jolo island.

The Asian and western captives have been separated in an apparent attempt to make any rescue attempt more difficult.

The Red Crescent team said it was only authorized to visit the nine Malaysians and one Filipino among the hostages, but would try to press on and see the tourists who have not been visited by outsiders since June 10.

The four-member mission, accompanied by local health officials, is scheduled to visit the camp on Sunday after provincial governor Abdusakur Tan, one of the government negotiators for the hostages' freedom, returns to Jolo on Saturday after consultations in Manila.

Tan has overseen all previous medical visits and the delivery of supplies to the hostages.

The government last week suspended regular food supplies and medical visits to the hostages in a bid to force the Abu Sayyaf to bring the tourist hostages out of hiding.

Sources said that the go-ahead was given for the medical mission because emissaries visiting the Abu Sayyaf camp were given assurances that any supplies delivered would reach the tourists also.

The gunmen brought the two groups of hostages, earlier held far apart, under one camp this week and the westerners are now about 1.5 kilometers (about a mile) from the Asians.

Regular medical visits are considered vital as some of the hostages are ailing.

Among them is a German woman, Renate Wallert, who has been suffering from a number of physical problems but has not seen a doctor since June 2. Other hostages are reportedly suffering from psychological problems.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf warned they will kill their captives if the government stages a rescue attempt.

In an interview with a radio station in Zamboanga City, transcripts of which were obtained here Friday, Abu Sabaya, a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf group, said "we are warning the government not to do again what they did in Basilan so no harm will come to the hostages."

He was referring to previous government attempts to rescue about 29 Filipino hostages held separately by the Abu Sayyaf in nearby Basilan island in May which resulted in the Abu Sayyaf killing four of the hostages.

The gunmen earlier beheaded two Filipino teachers among the hostages in a "message" to President Joseph Estrada.

Two Filipino school teachers and a schoolboy remain in Abu Sayyaf custody while the remaining hostages have been freed.

Abu Sabaya, who fled to Jolo from Basilan after the rescue attempt, warned the government against ignoring the remaining Filipino hostages in favour of the 21 hostages taken from a Malaysian resort on April 23.

"They must negotiate first over the local (hostages) and then we will start talking later about the 21 hostages," Abu Sabaya said.

"If nothing happens, this will be prolonged and we cannot prevent that some sort of example will be given to the government," Abu Sabaya said, apparently referring to further beheadings.

The 21 Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Lebanese, Malaysian and South African hostages were captured at the Malaysian resort of Sipadan on April 23 and shipped across the Celebes Sea to Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf have made political demands for the release of the hostages such as the creation of an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines, but negotiators say they have informally asked for a 21-million-dollar ransom.

24 June 2000 - The Manila Times

GOVERNMENT representatives should not talk too much while negotiating with Abu Sayyaf terrorists for the release of the 2l mostly foreign hostages they are holding in Sulu, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged yesterday.

Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, CBCP president, noted that the hostage crisis has become more complex due to the flood of speculations and opinions from people not directly involved in the negotiations.

“The very complex combination of local and international factors regarding the hostage-taking of foreign nationals from another country by Filipinos is already muddled enough by speculations and private opinions,” Quevedo said.

At Malacañang, Press Undersecretary Michael Toledo confirmed receiving reports of the Abu Sayyaf’s new threats of execution of hostages.

The Palace “is very much aware of the threat, that’s why the lines of communications are being kept open,” he told a press briefing.

“By making these threats, the Abu Sayyaf is just telling all and sundry as to what kind of group or what kind of people they actually really are,” Toledo said.

KL offer

In a related development, Malaysia’s postal service offered Friday to hand-deliver letters from family members to the nine Malaysians hostages being held by Muslim extremists in a jungle camp on Jolo island in the southern Philippines.

Shahri Jikun, an official from Post Malaysia, was cited by the national news agency, Bernama, as saying that Philippine postal authorities had agreed to assist in delivering the letters.

He said two Malaysian postal officers would fly to the Philippines on Saturday and hand the letters to a postmaster in Zamboanga, the largest city near where the captives are held, who would then find a way to pass the letters to the hostages.

In urging more circumspection from government officials, Quevedo stressed the preeminence of ensuring the hostages’ welfare.

This is the reason, he said, why as a bishop he has not expressed his own personal opinion on whether or not foreign governments should pay ransom for the release of their nationals held captive by the terrorists.

At present, Quevedo is the archbishop of Cotabato which has been adversely affected by the ongoing strife in Mindanao.

The Catholic prelate stressed the need for secrecy or confidentiality to ensure the success of the negotiations.

For instance, Quevedo said, only representatives of the countries whose nationals are in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf should be made privy to the Estrada government’s approach to the problem.

Private pundits

“As of now,” he said, “there are just too many private pundits offering different opinions on whether ransom should be paid or not, or whether foreign governments should be involved or not.”

At the same time, he proposed that the Philippines and foreign governments which have a stake in the negotiations to “patiently” work out a common position—“not only for the present case but for the future implications of the position commonly agreed upon.”

Malaysian authorities have expressed concern over the slow pace of negotiations for the release of the 21 hostages. They were abducted by Abu Sayyaf rebels from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan, off northeastern Borneo, on April 23.
-- John Concepcion and AP

24 June 2000; 15:45 pm - Bernama

KOTA KINABALU, June 24 (Bernama) -- Malaysia Saturday calls for the continued use of peaceful means to end the hostage crisis in Zamboanga, Philippines, which also involves nine of its nationals.

Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Shafie Apdal said if the kidnappers resorted to injuring the hostages, it would not only be a loss to them but also for the whole of southern Phillipines.

"Negotiations are still the best solution for the crisis and not through force," he said after opening the Sabah branch of the Malaysian Ex-Servicemen Association delegates conference here.

Shafie said this when asked to comment on a statement by a spokesman for the kidnappers who said in Zamboanga that the safety of the hostages would be compromised if the Filipino government resorted to a rescue mission.

An AFP report yesterday quoted the spokesman as saying that during an interview with a radio station there.

Twelve foreign nationals and nine Malaysians were taken hostage from the resort island of Sipadan by a group of gunmen on April 23.

Negotiations are still going on between the Filipino government and the kidnappers for the release of the hostages.

Shafie hoped all parties would take the neccessary steps to ensure the safety of the hostages.

On the possibility of more Filipinos entering Sabah illegally, he said a special committee had been set up to prevent the influx.

"More frequent patrols will be held in our waters," he said.

25 June 2000 - The Manila Times

A BIG Malaysian bank is serving as the main depository of some $3 million in cash purportedly donated by suspected Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden to finance the secessionist war being waged by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) against the Estrada administration. Military intelligence officials declined to name the bank but insisted that it is the one where alleged MILF deputy vice chairman for military affairs Salih Balamul was scheduled to withdraw the money.

The Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) said its agents obtained the account number of the Bin Laden deposits.

ISAFP learned that the money was made to appear to be intended for buying food and medicine for Muslims, including those who were adversely affected by the protracted war between the government and the MILF.

The military intelligence arm, however, said Bin Laden’s money is being used by the Muslim rebels to procure more arms and ammunition in a bid to strengthen forces now scattered in small satellite camps in central Mindanao.

MILF weakened

The military officials said the MILF has been considerably weakened by government’s ongoing military campaign.

In fact, an ISAFP report said that there are only about 100 MILF guerrillas now guarding these small MILF camps in Mindanao.

These MILF fighters are low in ammunition, the military added.

Most of the MILF fighters, from 9,000 to 10,000, are reportedly cowering inside Camp Abubakar, the MILF stronghold. There were only about 6,000 to 7,000 rebels inside Camp Abubakar prior to the military campaign, the military said.

The increase in the number of rebels in Camp Abubakar, it noted, is a result of successful military operations to first crush the forces manning the satellite camps.

Aside from ammunition, the rebels also lack firearms. The MILF has reportedly only 7,000 guerrillas still with arms, ISAFP said.

“Yung iba (weapons) wala (in encounters), yung iba nasira, yung iba na-capture ng military,” the military report said.
-- Manny B. Marinay

25 June 2000 - Reuters

MANILA (Reuters) - A Malaysian forest ranger, one of 21 mostly foreign hostages held by Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines, was released on Saturday, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the two-month-old kidnap saga.

But violence flared elsewhere in the country's troubled south. One person was killed and 37 injured in a series of bomb blasts in the port city of General Santos.

Police blamed the attacks on the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) -- a charge denied by the Muslim group.

"These two incidents are not related,'' said government spokesman Ricardo Puno. ``One is welcome, the other is most definitely not.''

The government's chief negotiator in the hostage saga, Robert Aventajado, told Reuters that Malaysian forest ranger Zulkarnain Hashim was set free by Abu Sayyaf rebels as a goodwill gesture.

"He is in my custody in Manila, he is in good shape,'' Aventajado said. Hashim was taken by government emissaries from the southern island of Jolo and brought to Zamboanga, the nearest big city, and then flown to Manila, he said.

The Abu Sayyaf, which along with the MILF is fighting for an independent Muslim state in the south of the mostly Roman Catholic Philippines, kidnapped 21 people from a Malaysian diving resort on April 23 and brought them to Jolo.

Jolo, a rugged island 960 km (600 miles) south of Manila, has long been a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, which is smaller than the MILF but is considered more radical.

The remaining hostages include eight other Malaysians, three Germans, two French nationals, two South Africans, two Finns, two Filipinos and a Lebanese.

No Ransom Paid

Aventajado said no ransom was paid, nor had any other rebel demands been met. He said the signs were favorable for the release of the other Malaysians at least.

Government officials have said the rebels are demanding at least $1 million for each hostage and have other political demands, including an independent homeland and a ban on fishing in the seas of the southern Philippines.

The government has said it will not pay any ransom or give more than limited autonomy to Muslim-majority areas in the south. But privately, many officials have admitted that some ransom would have to be paid.

In General Santos, a city 1,050 km (650 miles) south of Manila, suspected MILF rebels let off seven bombs in the space of about 20 minutes in busy commercial areas of the city on Saturday evening, police said.

The targets included at least three commercial banks, a shopping mall, a commercial building, a public market and a college in the downtown area of the mainly Christian city of more than 600,000 people.

"We suspect this is the handiwork of the MILF,'' regional police chief Manuel Raval told reporters. He said a woman waiting for a ride in front of a local bank was the lone fatality and that 37 others were injured.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied his group was responsible. ''The MILF has long condemned these actions,'' he told Reuters. ''We have nothing with do with this.''

Suspected MILF rebels launched bomb attacks in General Santos on May 3 in which three people were killed and more than 50 injured. They have also been blamed for two bomb attacks in the capital Manila.

The government and the MILF have made tentative moves toward peace talks, but both sides have said peace is elusive in the face of the bomb attacks and a government offensive against the rebels in which hundreds of people have been killed since March.

Muslims make up less than five percent of the Philippines' 75 million people but live mostly in the south.

26 June 2000 - BBC

The Malaysian Government says there was no deal struck for the release of a Malaysian hostage being held in the southern Philippines.

Foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, described the release of Zulkarnain Hashim, a forest ranger, as a goodwill gesture.

In the past, the Malaysian Government has suggested a ransom might be the only way out of the crisis.

He is the first captive to be released by the Islamic group Abu Sayyaf who had been holding 21 mainly Western hostages on the island of Jolo for two months.

Appearing at a news conference in Manila, Mr Hashim looked fit and well, despite suffering a scorpion sting during his captivity.

The remaining hostages are from Malaysia, Germany, France, South Africa, Finland, the Philippines and Lebanon.

Earlier, Robert Aventajado, the Philippine Government's chief negotiator, said no ransom had been paid.

Abu Sayyaf has reportedly demanded up to $21m to free all the hostages.

The Philippine Government, which has a 'no ransom' policy, said it has not received any formal demand and would not pay anyway.

The rebels are fighting for an independent Islamic state in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

The hostages were snatched from a Malaysian diving resort on 23 April and taken to Jolo by boat.

One of the German hostages, Renate Wallert, is suffering from a heart condition.

Frenchman Stephane Loisy, suffering from psychological distress, is also said to be in a deteriorating state.

The freed hostage is said to have been taken to the Philippine capital, Manila.

His release is the first breakthrough in weeks of negotiations.

26 June 2000 - Reuters

MANILA -- The Philippines' biggest Muslim rebel group has indicated it may consider a government offer of autonomy to end a 28-year-old separatist rebellion, a government official said yesterday.

The apparent breakthrough in talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) came after another Islamic rebel group freed a Malaysian hostage among 21 mostly foreign captives being held in the jungles of southern Jolo island.

Presidential press undersecretary Mike Toledo said the MILF had sent a government panel a draft of its reply to the offer of autonomy for Muslim areas in the south of this mainly Roman Catholic country.

""It would seem that they are already acceding to the position that any discussion on this will be based on a meaningful autonomy within the ambit and within the mandate of the Philippine constitution,'' Mr Toledo told reporters.

He said the government and MILF would resume talks, which have been going on for three years, today and added: ""Hopefully, an interim agreement is being drafted.''

Government negotiators have rejected the rebels' demand for an independent Islamic state and instead offered Muslims autonomy that respects Philippine territorial integrity.

More than 120,000 people have died in the revolt which began in 1972.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), once the Philippines' biggest Muslim rebel group, signed a peace deal in 1996 accepting autonomy for four Muslim-dominated provinces.

The MILF did not take part in the talks but launched separate negotiations with Manila in 1997. The talks have been marred by outbreaks of fighting.

Reports that the MILF was considering autonomy came just before the June 27-29 annual meeting in Malaysia of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the world's leading Islamic body. The MILF has applied for an observer status at the meeting in a bid to gain international recognition.

The Abu Sayyaf, responsible for the kidnapping of foreign hostages from the resort island of Sipadan, is also fighting for an independent Muslim homeland but has shunned talks. --Reuters

26 June 2000 - The Manila Times

CHIEF government negotiator Roberto Aventajado said yesterday the Abu Sayyaf freed a Malaysian hostage on Saturday as a “gesture of goodwill and no ransom was paid” contrary to earlier reports.

Zulkarnain bin Hashim, who was held with 20 other mostly foreign captives in a jungle in Talipao, Jolo, was turned over to Malaysian Embassy officials (Second Secretary Bala Chardan and Defense Attache Col. Shahrin Majid) at Malacañang.

Although the freed hostage kept mum on the fate of his fellow captives, he however acknowledged that the hostages were separated anew by their captors.

Aventajado said no dates have been set for new hostage talks with the Abu Sayyaf.

The Malaysian hostage, accompanied by Aventajado, was flown to Manila Saturday night aboard a private jet after being released unharmed by the Jolo-based band of Abu Sayyaf terrorists.

“I’m happy because we have saved somebody but sad because other hostages have been left behind,” Aventajado said even as he described as “a blatant lie” reports that Zulkarnain was freed because of a $3-million ransom offer by representatives of the Malaysian government in unofficial negotiations with the rebels.

The Philippine government has a policy of not paying ransom to kidnappers, he said.

KL: No ransom

An AP news dispatch said Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar was quoted Sunday by his country’s national news agency Bernama as insisting that Malaysia has not paid any ransom or offered any kind of concession to the kidnappers.

The terrorists are still holding three Germans, two French, two Finns, two South Africans, a Lebanese, eight other Malaysians and two Filipinos they seized April 23 from the Malaysian diving resort of Sipadan and brought to the southern Philippine island of Jolo, an hour away from the resort.

Sipadan, a territory being disputed by Malaysia and Indonesia, is near Sabah, a Philippine territory annexed by Malaysia with the assistance of the United Kingdom.

The Malaysian’s release was described as the biggest breakthrough so far in the two-month hostage crisis that has brought international attention to the Philippines’ problems in Mindanao.

Aventajado said the rebels freed Zulkarnain, a Muslim, because he was “the most religious among the hostages.” Aventajado said they were working to secure the release of the other hostages but it is uncertain when they could be freed.

Aventajado said Zulkarnain hugged and thanked him when they first met in the southern port city of Zamboanga near Jolo.

Aventajado, who was once allowed to visit the hostages at an Abu Sayyaf camp in Jolo, told Zulkarnain, “I told you I’ll bring you out but I could not get all of you out at the same time.”

Zulkarnain, a forest ranger in Sipadan, had grown a beard and looked tired in pictures shown on television Sunday. He was placed under guard at a building in Malacañang’s compound and would be allowed to return home as soon as possible, Aventajado said.

Talks soured

The negotiations appeared to have soured after the guerrillas separated their Caucasian hostages from the Asian captives because of fears of a military rescue operation three weeks ago.

The rebels then announced they would no longer deal with Aventajado after he said in an interview that the government was not ruling out a rescue operation if the talks failed.

Aventajado later said his comments were taken out of context and the rebels subsequently said they would continue to deal with him.

In previous meetings with negotiators, the rebels have focused on political demands, including a separate Islamic state, protection of traditional fishing grounds from large trawlers, many of which are foreign-owned, and the formation of a commission to examine the problems of Filipino Muslims living in neighboring Malaysia.

At least two of five Abu Sayyaf leaders, however, are interested primarily in a big ransom, government representatives to the rebels have said on condition of anonymity.

The two leaders, Galib Andang, known as Commander Robot, and Mujib Susukan, control the hostages in Jolo, an impoverished predominantly Muslim island of 500,000 people about 950 kilometers (589 miles) south of Manila.

Many of the hostages have fallen ill, though doctors have brought medicine and food. At least one, Frenchman Stephane Loisy, is said to have become psychologically distressed. --Joel R. San Juan and AP

26 June 2000; 14:29 pm - Bernama
KUALA LUMPUR, June 26 (Bernama) -- Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Monday that while he is happy over the release of one of the Malaysian hostages held by the armed group in the southern Philippine island of Jolo, he sincerely hoped that they will release all the other Malaysian and foreign hostages.

The prime minister said it would serve the cause of the armed rebels to release them because otherwise the world would think of them as a group of terrorists which had no principles.

"They have achieved, I think, what they want to achieve, that is to draw attention to their struggle," he told a news conference at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang, near here, on his return from Egypt and Italy.

He said to continue to detain the hostages would be going against the armed rebels' own interest.

He was asked to comment on the release of Zulkarnain Hashim, 29, a Wildlife Department ranger from Sabah, who was taken captive at gunpoint together with eight other Malaysians and 12 foreigners, from Sipadan on April 23.

To a question, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia needs to inform the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), which is scheduled to a hold its foreign ministers meeting here this week, of the hostage-taking incident.

To another question on what he thought the OIC would do to resovle the matter, he said he would not know as yet.

Asked on whether Malaysia would ask the OIC to appease and pressure the armed group to release the hostages, the prime minister said: "We don't know yet. We have no particular plan except to inform the OIC".

On the group's alleged renewed demand for ransom, Dr Mahathir said he did not know about that.

"But as a government, we don't pay ransom," he added.

27 June 2000 - The Manila Times
THE extremist Abu Sayyaf wants the government to order veils for all female students in Patikul, Sulu, scrap the Christmas holidays and abolish Junior-Senior proms in high school, in return for the freedom of two Basilan teachers and a student still in their hands.
Camp Crame officials said rebels relayed the demands to Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) Superintendent, Dr. Hadja Army Malbun and another official, Priscilla Chang.
The latest twist in the Abu Sayyaf hostage saga could increase criticism in Kuala Lumpur, where senior officials of the Organization Islamic Conference (OIC) start a four-day conference today.
The official said the extremist Abu Sayyaf rebels would be condemned for seizing 21 people from a Malaysian diving resort on April 23 and holding them ever since on Sulu.
“If they were to expect any sympathy from the OIC ministers for their cause, they would not get it,” a senior OIC official told the Bernama news agency.
“Instead, they will be told in no uncertain terms that what they did is an embarrassment to Islam.”
The two officials were checking on the conditions of student Richard Quinto and teachers Erlinda Manuel and Teresita Academia.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) report said the two met with Abu Sayyaf commander Randullan Sahiron and an aide, identified only as Abdullasis, in Barangay Igasan, Patikul.

The Abu Sayyaf also wants the DECS to hire Mudariz or Islamic teachers for schools in predominantly Muslim Patikul, police added.

27 June 2000 - AP
JOLO, Philippines (AP)--Muslim guerrillas have allowed government emissaries to resume deliveries of food, letters and other goods to 11 mostly Caucasian hostages in a jungle camp after a three-week suspension, officials said Monday.
A government emissary took food, stacks of letters and candy late Sunday to the 10 Caucasians and a Filipino woman, moving some of the captives to tears in the hinterlands of Talipao on southern Jolo island.
Abu Sayyaf guerrillas separated the group from eight Malaysians and a Filipino man and prohibited any visit by government emissaries about three weeks ago because of fears of a possible military rescue attempt, negotiators said.
The rebels allowed visits and food deliveries to resume after government negotiators gave an assurance they would not endorse a military rescue.
An emissary brought the goods, candies and German army food rations to the hostages.
The rebels are holding three Germans, two French, two Finns, two South Africans, a Lebanese and a Filipino woman in one camp in Talipao. About a kilometer away, the guerrillas are holding eight Malaysians and a Filipino man in another camp.
The hostages were seized April 23 from the Malaysian diving resort of Sipadan and brought to Jolo.
Last Thursday, the rebels freed one Malaysian hostage, Zulkarnain Hashim, as a gesture of goodwill and without payment of a ransom, said Robert Aventajado, the chief government hostage negotiator.
An Abu Sayyaf commander, Galib Andang, demanded Monday that the Malaysian government free a Filipino he identified as Mohammad Aklam who is jailed in Kota Kinabalu, apparently in exchange for Zulkarnain's release. He gave no other details on Aklam.
Andang also said no ransom was paid for the release of the Malaysian hostage.
"We are swearing to God that there was no ransom paid and we released the hostage because he is a Muslim," Andang said in a tape-recorded message.
A group of Christian fundamentalists has arrived in Jolo and is planning to travel to the Abu Sayyaf camp in Talipao to pray for the hostages and attempt to convince the guerrillas to release the captives. Jolo is in Sulu province, about 940 kilometers south of Manila.
Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan said he has refused to allow the group to travel to the camp and they would be on their own if they insist on going.
The rebels have resented the presence of Christian religious leaders in the southern Philippines and have staged attacks on priests, nuns and churches.

27 June 2000; 12:32 pm - Bernama
MANILA, June 27 (Bernama) -- The Philippine government has ruled out using the military to free the remaining 20 hostages still in the hands of Abu Sayyaf separatist gunmen in the hinterlands of Sulu, an official said Tuesday.

Press Secretary Ricardo Puno told a press briefing that the government was doing everything within its power to bring an early end to the hostage situation.

"We are trying to do it as quickly as possible and we are not going to do the armed option.

"The military option is not even being thought of at this time because it will only become a recipe for disaster," he said.

Puno said even if no formal negotiations are taking place, the lines of communication have remained open for the release of the balance of the hostages.

A Malaysian, Zulkarnain Hashim, was released last Thursday, the first hostage to gain freedom since the April 23 kidnapping in Sipadan, Malaysia.

Puno also advised the members of the press, particularly the foreign correspondents, not to give the Abu Sayyaf undue publicity.

"The Abu Sayyaf is only after publicity," he added.

27 June 2000; 15:09 pm - Bernama
KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 (Bernama) -- The release of the remaining eight Malaysians still held hostage by kidnappers on Jolo island should not be linked to unrelated matters, Foreign Minister Datuk Syed Hamid Albar said Tuesday.

Commenting on a newspaper report today that the hostage-takers wanted the release of an 85-year-old Filipino allegedly being held in Kota Kinabalu in exchange for the Malaysians, he said the issues involved were unrelated.

"I think it is a separate issue...I do not know why there should be a swap," he told reporters after the opening of the 27th session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM) by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, here.

Syed Hamid said statements in the newspapers needed to be checked into. It was reported that one of the leaders of the hostage-takers, Galib Andang, in a recorded message had demanded the release of one Mohamad Aklan, allegedly jailed for possession of firearms.

According to the report, Mohamad was believed to be a senior leader of a splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Syed Hamid said that in Malaysia, foreigners were put behind bars for committing a crime and not for political reasons.

He said a person who had been sentenced by the court was merely going through the process of law, "hence I find it difficult to see why the release of the Malaysian hostages should be tied to Mohamad Aklan's freedom."

He said rather than making demands, it was more important for the parties concerned to negotiate and do their best to free the Malaysians as well as 12 other foreigners who were snatched from the Malaysian island resort of Sipadan on April 23 and brought to the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

Last Friday, the abductors freed one of the nine Malaysians kidnapped, wildlife ranger Zulkarnain Hashim who had since been reunited with his family.

28 June 2000 - ABS-CBN
JOLO, SULU (ABS-CBN) - Eight remaining Malaysian hostages being held by Abu Sayyaf extremists in Sulu may be released within two weeks, a source privy to hostage release talks said Tuesday.

The source did not say why only the Malaysian hostages would be freed but added that the Abu Sayyaf apparently wanted to hang on to their Western captives. 

Among the Western captives are three Germans, two French nationals, two Finns, two South Africans, and a Lebanese. Two Filipinos are among the remaining 20 hostages.

Last weekend, backdoor negotiations obtained the release of one Malaysian hostage, forest ranger Zulkarnain Hashim. 

Government officials vehemently denied that a $1-million ransom was paid in exchange for Hashim's release.

The speculation arose following a statement by Malaysian foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar urging the Philippine government to reconsider its no-ransom policy for the speedy release of the hostages.

The government insisted the release was an "act of goodwill" by the Abu Sayyaf to signify their intention to continue with the negotiations.

Asked about the prospect of the immediate release of all the Malaysians, Badruddin Ab-Rahman, the Malaysian deputy chief of mission said "I do not want to speculate".

"I think everybody is happy with the release and we hope for the early release of all the remaining 20 hostages," Badruddin said.

Chief negotiator Robert Aventajado has assigned one emissary for each of the five commanders of the Abu Sayyaf, a source said.

The rebels are reportedly keeping the Asian and Western hostages in separate hideouts to foil any rescue attempt.

Aventajado, who is in Manila, is likely to return to this city with fellow government negotiator, Sulu governor Abdusakur Tan.

Meanwhile, emissaries for government negotiators said lines of communication are being kept open with the Abu Sayyaf.

Press secretary Ricardo Puno confirmed that talks with the Abu Sayyaf rebels are ongoing.

"At least, even if no formal meetings are taking place, the lines of communication have remained open and the process is continuing for the release of the balance of the hostages," Puno said.

"We are very optimistic that more of them would be released," he said, adding that the rebels had indicated the possibility of more releases after Malaysian captive Zulkarnain was freed.

"We're very hopeful as they (rebels) said there will be others that will probably follow (Zulkarnain's release)," Puno said.

The Abu Sayyaf previously demanded political concessions and a $21-million ransom for the freedom of the hostages.

On Monday, the kidnappers, through government emissaries, made new demands including the release of back pay for "hundreds" of public school teachers with unpaid wages stretching back to 1996. 

The Abu Sayyaf also offered to free Malaysians in exchange for the release of an elderly Filipino being held in a Malaysian jail.

Philippine ambassador to Malaysia, Jose Brillantes, assured a check on the identity of the prisoner, Mohamad Aklan, an 85 year-old Muslim jailed in Kota Kinabalu.

No prisoner
Malaysian authorities have denied any knowledge of a prisoner whom the Abu Sayyaf want freed in exchange for their eight Malaysian hostages.

"There is no such prison inmate," said Abu Talib Harun, state director for the National Security Division.

The message was delivered to the negotiators by a Malaysian humanitarian mission which visited the Abu Sayyaf's jungle camp on Monday.

The humanitarian mission was able to see the Asian hostages sheltered under a tent amid heavy rain, but not the Western captives.

The mission delivered 14 sacks containing clothes, food, and reading and writing materials to the Asian hostages.

28 June 2000 - The Straits Times
KUALA LUMPUR -- The release of the remaining eight Malaysian hostages still held by kidnappers in the southern Philippines should not be linked to an 85-year-old Filipino in a Malaysian jail, Malaysia's Foreign Minister said yesterday.
Datuk Syed Hamid Albar was commenting on news reports that the hostage-takers may want Mohamad Aklan released in exchange for the Malaysian captives.
Aklan, a Muslim, reportedly has been imprisoned for firearms possession in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. No other details about him are known.
""I think it is a separate issue,'' Datuk Syed Hamid said. ""I do not know why there should be a swap.''
Extremists from the Abu Sayyaf rebel group fighting for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines seized 21 captives from the Malaysian diving resort of Sipadan two months ago and are holding them at jungle hideouts on Jolo island.
This new demand is on top of other cash and political concessions sought.
On Friday the rebels freed their first hostage, Malaysian forest ranger Zulkarnain Hashim, 29, in what negotiators described as a goodwill gesture. Malaysia insists no ransom was paid.
Three Germans, two French citizens, two Finns, two South Africans, a Lebanese, eight Malaysians and two Filipinos remain captive.

28 June 2000 - The Manila Times
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials expressed puzzlement yesterday over the “strange” demand of Abu Sayyaf leaders for the release of an 85-year-old Filipino man from a Malaysian jail.
A ranking DFA diplomat said they had no record of any prisoner named Mohammad Aklan, a claim echoed by Malaysian officials who also asked to remain unidentified.
The official also hinted that the man named Aklan could be just a smokescreen for a totally different rebel goal.
 “The identity of Aklan is the key to what the kidnappers are really up to,” the DFA source said.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar also rejected the rebels’ alleged demand for a prisoner swap—eight Malaysian hostages for Aklan—and said his country did not hold any political prisoners.
Ghalib Andang a.k.a Commander Robot, however, did not link Aklan’s freedom to the release of any hostages, Sulu officials said. Nor did the guerrilla leader explain the importance of Aklan, reportedly jailed in Kotakinabalu, the capital of Sabah state.
“I don’t see any reason why there should be a swap,” Syed said.
“We don’t have any political prisoners in Malaysia. If a foreigner is arrested for a crime, he is charged and sentenced in a court of law and serves the sentence according to process of the law,” Syed said on the sidelines of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) foreign ministers meeting.
A Malaysian Embassy official said Deputy Chief of Mission, Sharim Almajed Hashim, flew to Zamboanga City yesterday, but did not give details.
DFA officials said Malaysia would have sole discretion on the freedom of the alleged prisoner due to the lack of a bilateral agreement.
But they stressed that the Consular Assistance Division found no file on Aklan, raising the possibility that he be one of the thousands of undocumented Filipinos facing immigration cases for overstaying and illegal entry.
“To demand the exchange of the hostages, whom they managed to keep for two months, for one person who could merely be facing an immigration case, is such an easy concession,” the DFA official said.
“It’s a mystery. There’s something more to this,” he pointed out.
The Abu Sayyaf has been know for bizarre demands, the latest being the scrapping of Christmas celebrations and Junior-Senior prom rites in Sulu high schools.
These demands were raised when education officials tried to plead for the freedom of two Basilan teachers and one student now held for four months.
The rebels are also holding in Sulu 20 Asian and western hostages—eight other Malaysians, three Germans, two French nationals, two South Africans, two Finns, two Filipinos and a Lebanese.
-- Charmaine Deogracias

28 June 2000; 15:14pm - Bernama
Too early to consider swap, says Government
MANILA, June 28 (Bernama) -- It is too early to accommodate a demand by the Moro extremist Abu Sayyaf for the release of a jailed Filipino in Malaysia in exchange for some of the 20 hostages in Jolo, an official said Wednesday.

Press Secretary Ricardo Puno said the demand was so sensitive that the government may have to take it up with the Malaysian government.

"Swaps might be possible depending on the terms of the swap. There cannot be any ransom involved. It will have to depend on the specific terms of that," he told reporters at a news briefing.

He said there had been no formal request from President Joseph Estrada or any senior government official to work out the details of a swap.

Puno said Estrada's instructions remained for government negotiators to do what they can under the circumstances and explore new formulas to resolve the hostage crisis.

Meanwhile, Puno questioned the seriousness of the Abu Sayyaf's other demands for females to wear veils and to drop Christian and Western traditions such as Christmas celebrations and junior-senior proms in high school.

"As far as I am concerned, these are not serious demands. We want to bring them back to the basic question regarding the hostages," he said.

Puno said the government wants to go back to the issue of the release of the hostages, following the release of one Malaysian hostage over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Presidential Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora said the Philippine government was considering the request of the Moro separatists to extend the deadline of their peace talks beyond June 30 this year.

He said the plan takes into account the ongoing meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Kuala Lumpur where government and secessionist representatives are attending.

"We will wait for the outcome of this OIC meeting," he said.

The government, he said, would decide whether to accommodate the request of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to extend the peace talks by four weeks.

Zamora said the government was informed by the MILF that its central committee leaders, including chairman Hashim Salamat, are in Kuala Lumpur for the OIC meeting and cannot finalise any peace pact by June 30.

He said the government was interested to know how the MILF would present its side on the Mindanao problem during the OIC meeting.

Sincerity was a key factor for the success of the negotiations between the two sides, he said.

"We want to see what happens in Kuala Lumpur before responding to the MILF's request for an extension," Zamora said.

Earlier, President Joseph Estrada said he would only extend the peace talks if the MILF would show its sincerity by dropping its demand for an independent Islamic state and ceasing its terrorist and criminal activities.

Meanwhile, Zamora said the Philippine delegation is now in Kuala Lumpur to attend the OIC meeting and present the Philippine side on issues concerning peace and development in Mindanao.

He said National Security Adviser Alexander Aguirre, who heads the delegation, will assert the government's position on the implementation of its peace agreement with the mainstream Moro National Liberation Front.

This includes the infusion of billions of pesos of funds for the development of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao under its governor, MNLF chairman Nur Misuari.

29 June 2000 - Reuters
Philippine Government, rebels deny hostage release deal
JOLO, Philippines (Reuters) - Muslim rebels holding 20 mostly foreign hostages in the Philippines for over two months said on Wednesday they had not released any of their captives and government officials dismissed talk that a deal was near.
Speculation has been mounting in Manila that the Abu Sayyaf rebels may release some hostages this week to coincide with a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Foreign ministers of the 56-nation grouping are meeting in Kuala Lumpur until June 30.
Some sources in Manila have also said that a deal involving millions of dollars was being struck with the rebels and there may be a series of releases over the next two weeks.
``That kind of report is misinformation,'' Philippine national security adviser Alexander Aguirre told Reuters in Malaysia's capital. ``There is no such thing as that kind of negotiation.''
Robert Aventajado, the Philippine government's chief negotiator, denied a report in the People's Journal, a small Manila newspaper, that five of the hostages had already been freed.
He told Reuters no one had been released.
On Jolo, the southern island where the hostages are being held, an Abu Sayyaf spokesman also said there had been no release.
``None so far,'' rebel leader Mujib Susukan told reporters who trekked up to an Abu Sayyaf lair in the hills above the main town on the island, also called Jolo. He did not give details.
The rebels kidnapped 21 people from a Malaysian diving resort on April 23 and have since held them on Jolo, 600 miles south of Manila. A Malaysian forest ranger was set free last week, raising hopes that the drama may be coming to an end.
The remaining hostages are eight other Malaysians, three Germans, two South Africans, two French nationals, two Finns, two Filipinos and a Lebanese.
Philippine officials have said the rebels are demanding $1 million per hostage but have said they are not willing to pay any ransom. But officials privately say that money will have to change hands.

29 June 2000 - AFP
JOLO, Philippines (AFP) - Germany, France and Finland were under pressure to launch backdoor efforts to win the release of their nationals among 20 hostages held by Muslim extremists in the Philippines, Vice President Gloria Arroyo said Wednesday.
The message was conveyed to Arroyo in Poland on Monday when she met the foreign ministers from the three European countries and Finland to brief them on the 66-day hostage crisis in southern Jolo island.
Arroyo, in a statement released here, said she won the backing of the ministers to provide develpment aid instead of a ransom payout for the gunmen.
The Abu Sayyaf kidnappers freed Malaysian hostage Zulkarnain Hashim last weekend after a series of backdoor negotiations, and there were indications more Malaysians will be released.
The European ministers -- Joschka Fischer of Germany, France's Hubert Vedrine and Finnish Secretary of State Jukka Valtasaari -- told Arroyo the Malaysian's release "has put pressure on their governments to likewise effect the release of their nationals using back channels similar to the one believed to have been used by Malaysia," a statment from the vice president's office said.
Three Germans, two Finns and two French nationals as well as eight Malaysians, two Filipinos, two South Africans and a Lebanese are being held by the Abu Sayyaf gunmen on Jolo. They were taken there by boat after being abducted from a Malaysian resort on April 23.
Arroyo, who met the ministers on the sidelines of a conference on the "Community of Democracies," was told by Fischer that while the no-ransom policy stands, "such other avenues as developmental aid could be tapped."
The Abu Sayyaf hideout in Jolo island buzzed with activity Wednesday as sets of emissaries redoubled efforts to win the freedom of the hostages.
An Abu Sayyaf spokesman told reporters here that four of the guerrilla group's five most senior leaders were "meeting with some people" whom he did not identify.
Sources close to the negotiations said a Chinese-Filipino businessman friend of President Joseph Estrada as well as former Filipino Muslim rebels now based in the Malaysian state of Sabah were also on the island and believed to be conducting negotiations.
The former rebels are believed to be working for Malaysian interests and working exclusively to win the release of the eight remaining Malaysians, the sources said.
Formal negotiations with the Estrada government bogged down early this month after the kidnappers, who style themselves as Muslim independence fighters, sought political concessions deemed "impossible" by Manila -- on top of a ransom of one million dollars per hostage.
Zulkarnain's release was attributed to the efforts of Estrada friend Lee Ping Hui, though the price for his liberty was unclear.
Manila and Kuala Lumpur have both denied they paid a cash ransom.
Estrada's spokesman Ricardo Puno said on Tuesday that though no formal talks were being held, "we have moved from square one."
Meanwhile, Estrada's national security adviser Alexander Aguirre said from Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday that Malaysia has rejected the Abu Sayyaf's latest demand that an elderly Filipino Muslim held in a Kota Kinabalu jail be freed. Press reports said the man was held on drugs charges.
"They have their own judicial system just like we do. They cannot just release a prisoner without a judicial process," Aguirre told a Manila radio station by telephone.

30 June 2000 - AP
By AARON FAVILA, Associated Press Writer
JOLO, Philippines (AP) - Muslim extremists holding 20 hostages in a southern jungle said Thursday they will not release any captives until negotiations are resumed and an agreement is reached.
A Malaysian hostage, Zulkarnain Hashim, was released last week in what negotiators called a goodwill gesture.
``No more will follow Zulkarnain. He is a gift to Malaysia,'' said Ghalib Andang, also known as Commander Robot, who has custody of the hostages in a mountain hide-out on southern Jolo island.
Andang said the Abu Sayyaf rebels will negotiate only with designated negotiators from the Philippine government or the governments of the foreign hostages.
Negotiators, led by presidential aide Robert Aventajado, suspended the talks more than two weeks ago in a ``cooling off period'' declared by the government after the rebel demands began escalating, Aventajado said.
Since then, Aventajado said he has been regularly sending emissaries to the rebels but there was no indication when formal talks might resume.
The Abu Sayyaf is the smaller but more violent of two Muslim rebel groups waging a separatist uprising in the region, the homeland of the country's Muslim minority.
The Abu Sayyaf seized three Germans, two French, two Finns, two South Africans, a Lebanese, nine Malaysians and two Filipinos on April 23 from a Malaysian diving resort and brought their captives by boat to Jolo.
Andang said government negotiators should immediately resume talks because many of the hostages are getting sick and weak from their long jungle captivity.
``These hostages will weaken as the days wear on,'' Andang said.
``We serve them what we eat - like cassava but they're not used to it, that's why they easily get sick. The water is dirty, there is no mineral water,'' he said.
The rebels so far have focused on political demands, including a separate Islamic state, formation of a commission to examine the problems of Filipino Muslims living in neighboring Malaysia, and the protection of traditional fishing grounds from large trawlers.
Government negotiators have rejected the first two demands but are trying to accommodate the third by enforcing fisheries laws more strictly.

30 June 2000 - Reuters
In a reversal of an earlier demand for one negotiating team, the rebels say the hostages' condition is "no good'
JOLO (Philippines) -- Islamic rebels holding 20 mostly foreign hostages in the southern Philippines said for the first time yesterday that they were willing to negotiate with the captives' governments for their release.
Rebel chief Galib Andang, speaking to Filipino reporters, stressed the need to end the 68-day hostage crisis, saying the physical condition of their captives was ""no longer good''.
""These hostages should have been released long ago if the Philippine government had not got itself involved,'' Andang said, speaking in a local dialect. ""We would have been talking long ago with the countries whose nationals are our hostage.''
""Even now, if the Philippine government will authorise foreign countries to negotiate here, this will be finished,'' Andang added.
Their latest stance is a complete reversal of what they had demanded earlier yesterday when they insisted on negotiating with only one government team.
The hostages -- eight Malaysians, three Germans, two French nationals, two South Africans, two Finns, two Filipinos one Lebanese -- were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf rebels from a Malaysian diving resort on April 23 and brought to Jolo island, 960 km from Manila.
Andang's statement marked the first time that the Abu Sayyaf, which is fighting for an Islamic state in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines, had publicly stated it favoured negotiations with the governments of their foreign hostages. The rebels originally abducted 21 people but freed a Malaysian national last week.
Meanwhile, Islamic nations meeting at the Organisation of Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur have not discussed the two-month-old Philippine hostage crisis formally, the chairman of the meeting and a Philippine Muslim leader said yesterday.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Syed Hamid Albar said: ""I think it would be difficult for us now to allow kidnapping and abduction to take a political dimension.''
At a separate news conference, Governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in the southern Philippines Nur Misuari said it was not up to the OIC to discuss the hostage crisis.
""I don't think the OIC was organised for this sort of thing,'' said the head of the Moro National Liberation Front and former chief negotiator. --Reuters

01 July 2000 - AP
JOLO, Philippines (AP)--A South African woman held with 19 other mostly foreign hostages in a jungle in the southern Philippines suffered a miscarriage this week, a leader of the Muslim rebel group that kidnapped them said Friday.
Galib Andang, known as Commander Robot of the extremist Abu Sayyaf group, said Monique Strydom suffered bleeding on Wednesday.
"It was a pity, she had to treat herself," Andang said. "That is Monique's problem. That is the government's problem."
Other hostages, particularly Lebanese Marie Moarbes, were losing weight because they only ate cassava most of the time, he said.
The Abu Sayyaf seized three Germans, two French, two Finns, two South Africans, a Lebanese, nine Malaysians and two Filipinos on April 23 from a Malaysian diving resort and brought their captives by boat to Jolo, about an hour away.
The rebels released Malaysian Zulkarnain Hashim last week in what government negotiators described as a gesture of good will.
Filipino reporters who spoke with Andang said he and another rebel leader, Mujib Susukan, met them in the village of Bandang in Talipao town near Jolo, where government negotiators and Abu Sayyaf leaders held their only formal meeting so far, on May 27.
Sulu provincial health officer Dr. Nelsa Amin, who has visited the hostages several times, has expressed concern about their health, including their psychological state. Strydom was believed to have been several months pregnant.
Andang said the hostages will blame the government, not the rebels, for any harm that they might suffer.
"If any one of them dies, they have written relatives to file a complaint against the government to the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the United Nations," Andang said. "They will not complain against the Abu Sayyaf."
Negotiators suspended talks more than two weeks ago in a "cooling-off period" declared by the government after rebel demands began escalating, chief negotiator Robert Aventajado said.
Andang has sent a letter to Philippine President Joseph Estrada demanding that an undetermined number of teachers in Jolo be paid their salaries. The government has failed to pay the teachers' salaries from as far back as 1996, Andang said.
The rebels so far have focused on political demands, including a separate Islamic state, protection of traditional fishing grounds from large trawlers, many of which are foreign-owned, and the formation of a commission to examine the problems of Filipino Muslims living in neighboring Malaysia.
At least two of five Abu Sayyaf leaders, including Andang, however, are interested primarily in a large ransom, government representatives say.

01 July 2000 - AP/AFP
The influential Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) scolded the Abu Sayyaf yesterday and urged the extremist Muslim group to release all its remaining mostly foreign hostages.
"Even if they aspired for some vindication, political or otherwise, this should not be the kind of behavior," the Malaysian news agency Bernama quoted outgoing OIC Chairman Youssouf Quedraogo as saying.
"We think the best way is to release all of them," Quedraogo stressed.
The OIC earlier called on Muslim minorities to respect the laws and sovereignty of their respective countries.
But the Abu Sayyaf reiterated it will reject the Philippine government's offer of an expanded autonomy and continue its fight for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao.
The group's hardline position was contained in a statement intended for the 56-member OIC which is currently meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The letter did not mention the 20 hostages the Abu Sayyaf has been holding in its jungle lair in Talipao town in Jolo and three Filipino teachers in the nearby island province of Basilan.
"We will never compromise our birth right to rule our homeland," the statement, signed by six Abu Sayyaf leaders, said.
The extremists also said they are opposed to a federal system of government as proposed by some senators.
One Malaysian captive was released last week in what government officials said was a "gesture of goodwill" by the by the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers.
Meanwhile, Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, a member of the government panel negotiating for the release of the hostages in Sulu, said he has refused to allow a group of Christian fundamentalists to visit the Abu Sayyaf lair to persuade the kidnappers to free their captives.
Tan said if the Jesus Miracle Crusade (JMC) led by Wilde Almeda insisted on going to the Abu Sayyaf lair, they would be on their own.
The JMC reportedly offered $3,000 and 50 sacks of rice to gain entry into the Abu Sayyaf lair and conduct a prayer meeting in the area.
However, the Abu Sayyaf rejected unofficial emissaries and demanded that only one government team should talk with them.
The call for a single channel of negotiations came as France, Germany and Finland were reportedly under pressure to follow Malaysia's move to launch backdoor talks for the victim's freedom.
Abu Sayyaf senior leader Galib Andang alias Commander Robot urged the Estrada administration to speed up the negotiations, saying several of the foreigners have been sick after more than two months in captivity due to hunger.
"The government must send only one team so as not to hamper the negotiations," Andang said in a tape-recorded message sent to the local media.
"We will not listen to others who boast they could win the release of the hostages," he added.
The government negotiating panel headed by Presidential Adviser on Flagship Programs Roberto Aventajado was still trying to set a second meeting with the kidnappers.
So far, the two panels officially met only once, last May 27, but no significant headway has been attained.
Andang and some of his comrades have asked for $1 million in ransom for each of the hostages, but other leaders of the kidnap group made political demands, including the setting up of a separate Bangsa Moro state in the South.
The Abu Sayyaf has also offered to swap the remaining eight Malaysian hostages with an elderly Filipino Muslim serving life term on drug charges in Malaysia.
Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who is currently in Geneva, Switzerland said the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Finland have told her the unexpected release of Malaysian hostage Zulkurnain bin Hashim has put pressure on their respective governments to effect the release of their nationals using backdoor channels.
The reason for Zulkurnain's release had remained unclear, with both governments of Malaysia and the Philippines denying any ransom payment.
Arroyo said she had discussed with the three European nationals the possibility of offering development aid or humanitarian assistance to Jolo instead of ransom.
In Manila, visiting British Foreign Minister of State John Battle announced an emergency assistance aid worth P16 million for people displaced by the fighting in Mindanao. The fund will be dispensed mainly through OXFAM, a British non-government organization which has been working in refugee shelters in Mindanao.
Andang said the release of the remaining hostages depended on the Estrada administration.
He also asked journalists to stop visiting their camp where the captives were staying.
Apart from the eight Malaysians, still being held by the Abu Sayyaf are a German family of three, a South African couple, two French nationals, two Finns, two Filipinos and a Lebanese.
The victims were seized on April 23 from the famous Malaysian resort of Sipadan, then taken by boat across the sea border to nearby Jolo.
Top Abu Sayyaf leaders, among their chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and his spokesman, Abu Asmad Salayuddi, reportedly met the other day in Barangay Bandang in Talipao to discuss the fate of the 20 hostages.
"They seem to be cooking up something," the source said.
Others who attended the secret meeting were Andang, Abu Sayyaf chief of staff Sahiron Radullah, Mujib Susukan, Abu Jumdain, Nadzmi Sadalla alias Commander Global, Jumdain Sajirul alias Black Killer, Ustadz Ommal Sahibul and Paradja Said.
Another source said the kidnappers were planning to set free six of the 20 hostages, mostly like all Malaysians in a bid to appease the Malaysian authorities.
The Philippine Navy apprehended over the weekend two fishing boats off Sulu in an attempt to prove to the Abu Sayyaf that the government is enforcing the ban on commercial fishing in the rich waters of the island.
Commodore Elonor Padre identified the fishing boats as F/B Sailor I and F/B Sailor II.
In another development, police authorities have placed the entire Southern Mindanao region under double red alert amid threats of more bomb attacks following the spate of explosions in General Santos City last Saturday.
"We are not taking things for granted. We could not be just sit down and wait things to happen. We have put our men on double red alert," said Senior Inspector Matthew Baccay, spokesman for the Southern Mindano regional police command.
Security measures were intensified in public places such as markets, churches, schools, shopping malls, sea ports and the Davao International Airport. - Roel Pareño, Edith Regalado, AP, AFP

02 July 2000 - AP/AFP
Concerns mounted for the hostages after the group threatened to cut medical supplies to foreign captives, including a South African who suffered a miscarriage.
Emissaries tried to contact the extremist group in Jolo to check the condition of the 10 foreign tourists in the wake of a taped message from leader Galib Andang on Friday saying South African Monique Strydom had a miscarriage.
Andang also said his group was cutting off the supply of medicine to the tourist hostages -- three Germans, two French, two Finns, two South Africans and a Lebanese -- in order to ""pressure'' the government.
Sources close to the negotiations said that a special medical emissary would go to the Abu Sayyaf's jungle hideout to follow up on the condition of the foreign tourists.
Earlier, government negotiators had opened up a ""humanitarian channel'' for the hostages under which a government doctor regularly visited them and medical supplies and food were sent to the captives.
Last month, however, the Abu Sayyaf separated the tourists from the Asian hostages -- nine Malaysians and two Filipinos -- in order to make any government rescue effort more difficult.
The kidnapped tourists have not been allowed to see a doctor since June 2.
In Manila on Friday, chief negotiator Robert Aventajado expressed sorrow at the South African's miscarriage, saying ""it's really a precious baby because she is already 37 years old and this is her first pregnancy and it's really a very sad moment for me to hear that she lost her baby.'' --AP, AFP

02 July 2000 - The Manila Times
By Charmaine C. Deogracias and Manny Marinay
The Moro Na-tional Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have finalized reunification plans hatched last year, rebels and government diplomats told The Manila Times Friday night.
MILF acting chief peace negotiator Moner Bujanaid confirmed that talks were finalized in Kuala Lumpur during last week’s four-day Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) foreign ministers’ meeting.
In separate overseas phone interviews, THE TIMES learned that MNLF chairman and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Nur Misuari  and Bujanaid finalized details to put up “a common political front” for future negotiations with the Philippine government.
The Misuari-Bujanaid talks capped a week of lower level negotiations by MNLF and MILF staff.
The MILF, meanwhile, also expressed elation over the OIC resolution which called on both the government and the rebel group to seek a halt to the Mindanao conflict.
“It was a virtual declaration that we had achieved a status of belligerency,” said MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu in a phone interview.
A Philippine diplomat in Kuala Lumpur also acknowledged that “there was an impression from some (OIC) delegations that there is tacit recognition of the MILF,” and said this was due to the government’s proposed interim agreement with the secessionist group.
The resolution passed by the 27th foreign ministers conference of the OIC urged “both the GRP and the MILF to immediately halt their existing hostilities and reach a peaceful solution to the current problems in Mindanao.”
 “We have become a force to reckon with, an international entity by virtue of that resolution,” the rebel spokesman stressed.
Philippine officials also welcomed the resolution, however, interpreting it as a victory in their bid to present the Mindanao pacification campaign as a legitimate state action.
“The final resolution was rather fair and balanced, because the phrase, ‘offensive against the Bangsamoro people,’ was deleted,” Philippine Ambassador to Riyadh Rafael Seguis said in a telephone interview.
Common panel
A diplomatic source told THE MANILA TIMES that the groups decided to move forward with their reunification to strengthen their demand for an independent Islamic state. Malacañang has repeatedly said it will never grant this demand.
Misuari tried to evade the issue when queried by a broadcast journalist in Kuala Lumpur at the start of the OIC meet. The ARMM governor said “there are no formal talks yet on that.”
Bujanaid said he and Misuari both agreed to uphold the MILF-MNLF  December 1999 agreement to push unification, pursue open lines of communication, and advance a common political front in implementing the OIC resolution.
The MILF peace negotiator said his group owed Misuari a debt of gratitude for putting the spotlight on the government’s all-out war against Moro secessionist rebels and the Bangsamoro people.
Misuari’s legal counsel, Macapanton Abbas Jr. told THE TIMES the MNLF chairman and Bujanaid also formally informed the OIC of their agreement to unite for political purposes.
“The government should see this positively, as it would bring the MILF into the peace process of the MNLF,” Abbas said, while refusing to discuss whether there would be autonomy or independence. He admitted the end goal is to “unite all Muslim groups,” including the now isolated Abu Sayyaf.
Abbas said Misuari and MILF chairman Hashim Salamat met twice last year and had agreed to set up a coordinating body, composed of MNLF and MILF leaders who shall meet regularly to forge a single position on important political issues.
Abbas acknowledged the move was delayed by the MNLF’s failure to submit the names of its officials.
Change of heart
Kabalu was noncommittal about the reported reunification but said “the possibility is not remote.”
He said, however, that long-term unity would be achieved only if Misuari “returns to the political course of the movement,” and renounce “diversionary tactics.”
“He must recoup his being a revolutionary,” the MILF spokesman stressed.
The MNLF had earlier espoused for independence but the 1974 ICFM resolution bound Misuari to agree to settle their struggle peacefully and within the legal framework of the Philippine Constitution, which only allows autonomy.
Misuari, however, unleashed a blistering attack on the Philippine government’s failure to meet its peace commitments in Jeddah, before the OIC preparatory last May 27-30.
The ARMM governor then called for independence for Mindanao, citing East Timor and the Independence Movement of Quebec as models.
He also asked the OIC to grant upgrade the MNLF status from observer to full member, to regain the support of disgruntled former followers now with the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf.
In explaining the “pleasant surprise” sprang by Philippine allies at the OIC meet, Ambassador Seguis said the change happened in the plenary session.
The inclusion of Malaysia and Brunei, fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), into the expanded Committee of Six helped promote the government’s position, he added.
“We were able to convince some of the friendly delegations that the draft was procedurally wrong and they rallied behind us in the plenary,” Seguis said.
“They even expressed appreciation for the flexibility of the Philippine government in implementing the peace agreement with the MNLF,” he added.

02 July 2000 - The Manila Times
By Faber Concepcion
Siasi, Sulu – Military sleuths got their first intelligence break in the long-running hostage saga last week as residents bared the presence of several Abu Sayyaf  rebels on the island of Pandami, this island’s twin, in Sulu’s second district.
Witnesses here also told authorities that residents of Pandami, which lies half-way between the Sulu mainland and Tawi-Tawi, were actually the ones who seized 21 Asian and western hostages from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan last April 23.
They reportedly held the hostages on Tapaan, a smaller island fronting Pandami’s southern coast, before bringing them to Patikul town.
Sources said the fast craft used in bringing the hostages from Sipadan is still at an islet just off Pandami, where “new custodians” are standing guard.
 “They (hostages and captors) first landed in the island of Malanta, but later transferred to Tapaan Island where they stayed during the night, said a town official who requested anonymity.
He said Tapaan residents, mostly fisher folk, did not know the foreigners who arrived aboard a jungkung (dive boat) were hostages. They did notice the boat was more of the kind used in Malaysia and not the usual vessel found in Sulu waters.
“They were told the hostages were only beach tourists who wanted to see the southern islands,” he added.
No release
Meanwhile, the Abu Sayyaf postponed the promised release of two Filipino school teachers and a teenage boy they have held captive for more than three months, Sulu local officials said.
Abu Sayyaf militia had sent a message to local officials through an emissary that they would release the hostages, the last of those abducted from a raid on two high schools on the island of Basilan in March.
But they later said the release would not take place until Monday, the officials said. “The group has decided to release these three but the mechanics are still being worked out,” said one official, who asked his name not to be used.
Monique Strydom, a South African woman among the Sipadan hostages, suffered a miscarriage earlier in the week, according to a rebel leader.
Erma Canprezo, a senior nurse in Jolo town who examined Strydom when the rebels allowed the captives to receive medical attention, said that if the report was true, the South African woman needed immediate hospitalization.
Guerrilla leader Ghalib Andang reiterated after telling local reporters of Strydom’s miscarriage on Friday that the rebels would not allow any medical supplies, food or doctors to reach the white hostages.
“We are preventing medical supplies from reaching the whites so the government will be forced to expedite negotiations,” he said.
Different abductors
The original abductors of the Sipadan hostages are residents of Pandami who frequently travel to Sipadan and other Malaysian islands like Sandakan and Tawau, a Siasi source said.
He said Abu Sayyaf leaders Ghalib Andang alias Commander Robot, Mujib Susukan and others now negotiating with government officials for the release of hostages, never went to Sipadan.
“Another group executed the plan, not the group of Robot and other rebel leaders who have claimed responsibility for the kidnapping,” he added.
But he said the Abu Sayyaf helped plan the kidnapping, and collected logistics for  prolonged negotiations.
The Pandami men were close allies of the Abu Sayyaf, the source said. While on Tapaan island, they contacted the Abu Sayyaf rebels in Patikul to announce their success.
A speedcraft from the mainland arrived to take the hostages the following day.
The source said the vessel was left on a nearby island under the care of a barangay official.
Bashier Titong, a resident of Barangay Malanta in Pandami said most island folk were innocent.
“We did not know they were kidnap hostages. We thought they were merely tourists who wanted to take a look at the beautiful and clean beaches we have,” he said, adding that they were used to visitors.
According to Bashier, the kidnappers reportedly sought permission from a certain Murphy, a barangay leader of Mimul, Pandami, before taking the hostages to Tapaan.
Another source said fast craft’s caretaker hid it inside a mangrove area.
“It is well guarded. They have covered it with leaves,” lawmen also quoted an informant as saying.

03 July 2000 - The Manila Times
By Chairmaine C. Deogracias
MUSLIM states sympathetic to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) are seriously considering haling the Philippines before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for alleged war crimes committed against the Bangsamoro people.
MNLF legal counsel Atty. Macapanton Abbas told THE MANILA TIMES the Muslim states begun to study this option following the “soft” stance taken by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) on the armed hostilities between the Philippine military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In a resolution in the just concluded 27th foreign ministers’ meeting of OIC member countries in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the 56-member organization “urged both the GRP (Philippine government) and the MILF to end their existing hostilities and reach a peaceful solution to the current problems in Mindanao.”
Abbas said in a telephone interview, the MNLF allies were disappointed in that the original draft of the resolution, which “urged the Philippine government to stop its military offensive against the MILF and Bangsamoro people,” was not adopted by the OIC foreign ministers.
Two grounds
In view of this development, Abbas said these OIC members have begun to contemplate imposing sanctions against the Philippines by filing a case before the ICJ on two grounds:
(a) the Philippine government’s failure to comply with the 1996 GRP-MNLF peace agreement, and
(b) the Philippine military’s alleged war crimes (human rights violations and genocide) against the Bangsamoro people.
Abbas declined to identify the Muslim states sympathetic to the MNLF.
He said final decision on the contemplated complaints against the Philippines will be made based on the findings of an OIC-organized fact-finding teams during its visits to Mindanao this month.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said last week it was sending a monitoring team in Mindanao to review humanitarian aspects on the government’s all-out war against Moro secessionist rebels in Mindanao.
Foreign Affairs officials, reacting to the report, said no one can stop individual member countries of the Muslim organization from pursuing any action against the Philippine government.

They acknowledged that the OIC as a body cannot impose sanctions against a country, the Philippines in this case, without the full approval of its members.

03 July 2000 - The Straits Times
According to a Philippine report, news of the South African's condition was made up by French journalists to protect her from sexual abuse or rape
JOLO -- A South African hostage, being held by Abu Sayyaf rebels in the jungle in the southern Philippines, did not suffer a miscarriage as reported by the rebels last week.
The news of Mrs Monique Strydom's ""pregnancy'' was contrived and spread by foreign journalists to protect her from possible rape or sexual molestation at the hands of her captors, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
Several French journalists conspired to spread rumours of the ""pregnancy'' and kept the truth from the rebels.
But now it appears that the rebels have used the news of the ""miscarriage'' as a way to pressure Manila and other foreign governments into meeting their demands.
It is unclear whether the rebels believed Mrs Strydom was pregnant and had a miscarriage or whether they knew she was not and were using the rumours to increase the political pressure.
The report said that even Dr Nelsa Amin, the government physician who has periodically visited the hostages, was let in on the conspiracy.
Galib Andang, one of the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, said on Friday that medical supplies for the foreign hostages were being stopped and Mrs Strydom ""had to just treat herself''.
In South Africa, the government said on Saturday it received the apparently erroneous news of the miscarriage with ""great distress'', and again urged a speedy resolution of hostage crisis.
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the government ""has learnt with great distress that Monique Strydom... has suffered the loss of her unborn child''.
A South African Foreign Ministry statement issued in Pretoria said: ""It is the minister's wish that negotiations with the abductors could be expedited to ensure an amicable resolution of the crisis resulting in the early release of all hostages.''
Meanwhile, Andang said the hostage-taking had served one of the Abu Sayyaf's purposes.
""It was a deliberate act so we would be recognised and we have attained that objective,'' he said. --Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

04 July 2000 - AFP
JOLO, Philippines (AFP) - A German journalist and 13 Filipino Christian preachers missing in the southern Philippines have been abducted by Muslim extremists holding 20 other mostly foreign hostages, the military said Monday.
Government spies saw Andreas Lorenz, 48, of Der Spiegel magazine inside an Abu Sayyaf camp in the foothills of Mount Gassam in Jolo island, intelligence sources here said.
The preachers, led by Jesus Miracle Crusade evangelist Wilde Almeda, were seized while on a mercy mission Saturday night, and their bibles and other religious materials were burned, the military said.
Lorenz was abducted from the village of Kasalamatan on Sunday by gunmen who hit him on the forehead with the butt of a pistol, drawing blood, his Filipino interpreter told police Monday.
A military report prepared for President Joseph Estrada said the gunmen were Abu Sayyaf members operating under the command of Radulan Sajiron, a one-armed veteran rebel.
However, an Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya said in a radio interview Monday that they were not holding the German and insisted that the preachers were staying in the kidnappers' camp on their own free will "to spend 40 days praying there."
The Abu Sayyaf, a loose organization of several Muslim armed groups who style themselves as independence fighters, seized 21 Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Lebanese, Malaysian and South African hostages in the Malaysian island of Sipadan last April 23.
One Malaysian was freed last month but the group wants a million dollars for each of the 20 remaining hostages.
German journalist Lorenz had earlier spurned a police escort on his way to meet rebel contacts.
"I am old, I have no money. What would the Abu sayyaf want to do with me?" the manager of Lorenz's hotel quoted the German as saying.
Lorenz was among 10 Western journalists detained by the Abu Sayyaf early last month when they tried to enter the gunmen's hideout. They paid over 25,000 dollars for their collective freedom after being threatened with death.
Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon said the government would negotiate for Lorenz's freedom even though he flouted orders against seeking out the rebels.
Noting that this was Lorenz's second abduction, Siazon said "there's a saying, if you're bitten by a dog, that's okay. Bitten by the (same) dog twice, shame on you."
The military said a Abu Sayyaf unit led by Galib Andang and Mujib Susukan, which abducted the 20 mostly foreign hostages, were behind the kidnapping of the 13 Filipino preachers who had visited their jungle camp to pray over the captives.
Almeda was not allowed to preach even after he paid the kidnappers 3,000 dollars, the military said.
Earlier, Andang sent a taped message to the press saying the "prayer warriors" were only staying at their camp for a 40-day fast.
President Estrada's National Security Adviser Alexander Aguirre on Monday criticized the new hostages for being "blockheads."
Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado told reporters: "We are not underestimating the power of prayers since it can move a lot of things, but this has complicated matters."
In a separate development, a hereditary sultan, Esmael Kiram, said that the Abu Sayyaf gunmen were asking him as well as a former diplomat Romulo Espaldon and Philippine Senator Ramon Magsaysay to join the government negotiating panel.
Kiram, whose sultanate covers Sulu province where the hostages are being held, said that the rebels approached him to mediate and that he advised them to free the hostages.
The Abu Sayyaf has previously asked the government to appoint new negotiators but officials turned these requests down.

04 July 2000 - The Straits Times

IT IS ironic that the Abu Sayyaf rebels, a group of bandits who style themselves as pro-independence fighters, discriminate against their Asian captives.
Medical teams dispatched to deliver food and medicines to the kidnappers' jungle hideout in Jolo island reportedly told the authorities that the nine Malaysian and two Filipino hostages were being made to fetch water and cook for the 10 Western captives and their captors.
The Abu Sayyaf gunmen are also said to treat the Malaysians harshly compared to other foreign hostages.
The reason: they resent the recent summary deportation of some of their relatives from Sandakan by the Malaysian authorities.
Although the Malaysian and Philippine governments repeatedly declare that they do not succumb to blackmail, they are not averse to the idea of having ""private parties'' broker a deal with the kidnappers.
The buzz in the southern Philippines is that a Malaysian businessman had contracted 15 former members of the Moro National Liberation Front now living in Sabah to negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of all the hostages.
Malaysian forest ranger Zulkarnain bin Hashim was released on June 22 in a move described by the rebels as a ""a goodwill gesture''.

04 July 2000 - The Manila Times
By Faber Concepcion
ZAMBOANGA CITY— Evangelist Wilde Almeda and l2 of his “prayer warriors” are not being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf in the terrorists’ lair on Sulu Island, a member of the Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry (JMCIM) here said.
Tabul, a JMCIM follower, told THE MANILA TIMES Almeda and his group were “willing hostages” who were allowed by the terrorists to stay in their lair for 40 days and 40 nights of fasting and prayer and conduct healing sessions to the mostly foreign captives being held in Sulu since April 23.
Yesterday, however, Press Secretary Ronaldo Puno contradicted Tabul’s statement, saying that the terrorists had detained Almeda and his group — a development which could complicate negotiations for the release of the foreign hostages.
Puno told a press briefing in Malacañang that the Abu Sayyaf stripped and relieved members of the Almeda group of their belongings even before they reached the terrorists’ camp.
Earlier, Malacañang ordered the police to investigate the veracity of the reported hostage-taking of Almeda and his group as well as that of Andreas Lorenz, a correspondent of the German magazine Der Spiegel.
The terrorists reportedly snatched Lorenz in Barangay Kasalamatan on the outskirts of the Sulu capital town of Jolo.
But to Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr., Lorenz’ reported abduction was the least of his worries, saying the government is more interested in finding a solution for the release of hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf.
“There’s a saying (that) if you’re bitten by a dog, okay lang. But if you’re bitten by the same dog twice, shame on you,” Siazon told DFA reporters, adding:
“Sinabi na huwag ng pumunta doon, anong magagawa mo. Of course, we will be blamed but we have warned them already.”
Siazon was referring to the warning of the government and the German Embassy for journalists not to go alone and interview the terrorists without coordinating their movements with proper authorities.
Lorenz was apparently one of the l2 foreign journalists who were earlier held captive by the Abu Sayyaf and released only after they had paid a “ransom” and divested  of their valuables.
Sulu Gov. Abdasakur Tan said he also warned Almeda and his group from proceeding to the terrorists’ lair. “I told them it’s not safe to go to the hills as they could be held for ransom but they were very insistent,” he said.
The news of the abduction of Almeda and his group was first reported by Sali Pendatun, who was hired by the evangelist to drive them to the Abu Sayyaf camp.
But one of the terrorist leaders, Commander Robot promised to allow the Almeda group to leave their camp anytime they want. “We will send them out if they want to, even if they cannot endure 40 days of fasting and healing,” he told a radio interview in the Tausug dialect.¨
With Manny Marinay, Charmaine Deogracias and Macon Ramos-Araneta

05 July 2000 - Reuters
JOLO, Philippines (Reuters) -- Islamic rebels holding 20 mostly international hostages denied on Tuesday that they had taken captive 13 Christian preachers who had gone to visit their camp and said the evangelists were with them "for 44 days of fasting."
The fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf guerrillas issued the statement amid growing fears that the missionaries, who trekked through rugged hills into the rebel lair on Saturday to pray for the hostages, had themselves been detained.
On Sunday, four suspected rebels seized a German reporter for Der Spiegel news magazine, further complicating a 10-week hostage crisis that has brought international embarrassment to President Joseph Estrada's embattled government.
Police said reporter Andreas Lorenz was seen on Monday hiking with his captors through the forests of Patikul hills just outside Jolo town.
"This is to inform all the people of the Philippines that the Jesus Miracle Crusaders are here for 44 days of fasting for the 20 hostages of Sipadan, Sabah, Malaysia," the Abu Sayyaf said in a statement handed by a woman emissary to a Reuters reporter.
"These people, pastors or priests, are not hostages," said the statement signed by rebel chiefs Galib Andang and Mujib Susukan.
The hostages -- including eight Malaysians, three Germans, two French nationals, two South Africans, two Finns, two Filipinos and a Lebanese -- were abducted from Malaysia's Sipadan island diving resort on April 23 and brought to Jolo, 960 kilometers (600 miles) south of Manila.
The Abu Sayyaf is one of two groups fighting for an independent Moslem homeland in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.
Chief pastor Wilde Almeda of the Manila-based religious movement and a dozen followers said when they left for the rebel hideout last weekend that they would pray for the release of the hostages. They had brought with them "gifts" of $3,000 and sacks of rice for the rebels.
Manila newspapers said the Abu Sayyaf had demanded a ransom of $10 million for the missionaries but the presidential palace in Manila said no such demand had been received.
"The only report I have on my desk is the confirmation that they are being held against their will," Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said in Manila.
"The (Abu Sayyaf) is saying that Almeda's group is really fasting. We hope that is correct," he said.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon voiced exasperation at the abduction of Lorenz, whom the rebels also detained for several hours last month along with other foreign journalists who tried to see the hostages.
"There's a saying that if you're bitten by a dog, that's okay. But if you're bitten by the same dog twice, shame on you," Siazon said.
Police said Lorenz was snatched at gunpoint by four men who had offered to help him meet the rebels. Witnesses said the gunmen struck him in the head with a pistol when he resisted.
The rebels originally kidnapped 21 people from Malaysia but freed one of them, a Malaysian forest ranger, on June 25.

05 July 2000 - The Manila Times
By Joel San Juan and Marian Trinidad
MALACANANG yesterday rejected the offer of some local leaders to help in the negotiations for the release of the mostly foreign hostages held by Abu Sayyaf terrorists in their forest lair in Patikul, Sulu.
At the same time, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora told a radio interview that the government has not cordoned off the areas leading to the terrorists’ lair, thus enabling “do-gooders” like born again evangelist Wilde Almeda and his l2 “prayer warriors” to enter the Abu Sayyaf camp.
This developed as Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Panfilo Lacson challenged the Abu Sayyaf to make good their reported plan to fan out to key cities nationwide to abduct foreign and local journalists as well as businessmen.
While downplaying the terrorists’ capability to go on a kidnapping spree, Lacson nevertheless issued this challenge: “Let them try it here (Metro Manila) and we will show them how we will deal with them.”
The PNP chief also said that last Monday’s bombing attempt on a Makati City commercial bank was part of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) grand plan to extend the Mindanao war to key towns and cities nationwide, including Metro Manila.
MILF cells
In a press conference in Camp Crame, Lacson confirmed the presence of seven more cells of the MILF Special Operations Group (MILF-SOG) in the metropolis to conduct terror missions, like bombings.
Two of these MILF cells, he said, were already neutralized during the May 27 lightning raid on the predominantly Muslim Maharlika Village in Taguig where 26 suspected bombers had been arrested and charged.
In Malacañang Zamora admitted that the military has not cordoned off the areas leading to the Abu Sayyaf lair to avoid a confrontation.
He said: “The problem is you don’t have them confined in one area. Basically, they have been moving around in a very large area. If you recall, when the Armed Forces cordoned off the area, the Abu Sayyaf complained and said that this was threatening the safety of the hostages.
“So what the Armed Forces did was to withdraw to a specific location. In short, wala nang cordon around that area. That’s why anybody who wants to can really get to the camp if they have a guide.”
Zamora said even if the group of Almeda would eventually be held hostage by the terrorists, the government would still not cordon off the lair to prevent confrontation between the Abu Sayyaf and the soldiers.
“First of all, many are saying that at the delicate stage of the negotiations, the last thing you want is the military confrontation,” Zamora said.
Meanwhile, Malacañang turned down the offer of some local leaders to help in the negotiations for the release of the hostages as well as the Abu Sayyaf demand for the inclusion of Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, a sultan of Sulu and Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Romulo Espaldon in the negotiations for the release of the hostages. Zamora said this would only complicate the situation as the negotiations are now entering a delicate stage.

06 July 2000 - AFP
The quarrel almost turns into a shootout when the factions cannot agree whether to kill the 13 Christian preachers they are holding captive
JOLO -- Muslim guerillas in the southern Philippines almost shot it out among themselves when one faction wanted to kill 13 Christian preachers among their captives, intelligence sources said here yesterday.
The military says the group, led by flamboyant television evangelist Wilde Almeda, have been held captive together with 20 mostly foreign hostages seized by the Abu Sayyaf from a Malaysian resort on April 23.
A German journalist covering the crisis, Mr Andreas Lorenz, 48, has also been detained by the guerillas.
The near shootout among the rebels on Tuesday has further heightened tensions in Jolo, the authorities said.
According to sources, followers of one Abu Sayyaf leader, Radulan Sajiron, confronted two other rebel leaders, Galib Andang and Mujib Susukan, in their camp in Bandang town on Tuesday over the fate of the 13 preachers.
Sajiron's group demanded Andang and Susukan turn over the preachers for ""liquidation'', sparking a heated argument among the factions, with members pointing guns at each other, a security intelligence source said.
The Sajiron followers were later calmed, but their anger at the Christians will likely complicate any attempt to get the preachers out of the rebel camp, sources said.
Sajiron, who has just one arm, is a veteran guerilla fighter, and his followers are known to be more fanatical than those of other factions.
The Abu Sayyaf, a coalition of various armed groups who style themselves as independence fighters, have made political demands as well as a ransom demand of US$1 million (S$1.7 million) for each of the 20 foreign hostages. The fate of the 20 remains unknown.
A government emissary, who brought supplies for the Westerners in the group on Tuesday was not allowed to see them.
There has been no report so far of any ransom demand for Mr Lorenz. --AFP

06 July 2000 - Channel NewsAsia
A Philippine negotiator has said some of the 20 mostly foreign hostages held by Muslim rebels may be freed before 24 July, when President Joseph Estrada leaves for a visit to the United States.
Presidential assistant secretary Farouk Hussain also said Manila had information suggesting the hostage-taking might have been planned by a Malaysia-based group seeking to destabilise some countries in the region.
He did not elaborate but said the whole issue might ultimately might boil down to ransom money.
The prospect that some of these hostages may soon be freed is definitely welcome.
But government negotiators warn that it is difficult for all of them to be released because of "other agendas" the rebels want to put across.
The hostages -- eight Malaysians, three Germans, two French nationals, two South Africans, two Finns, two Filipinos and a Lebanese -- were abducted from a Malaysian diving resort on April 23 and brought to the southern Philippine island of Jolo.
Manila says a government team would fly back to Jolo on Thursday to resume talks suspended for more than three weeks, owing to what officials said were escalating rebel demands.
The hostage saga has been complicated by Sunday's abduction of a German journalist and by the apparent detention of 13 Filipino Christians who trekked to the rebel camp on Saturday to pray for the captives.
The rebels have insisted that the evangelists were not being held hostage but were staying in the forests to fast and pray for 44 days.

06 July 2000 - The Manila Times
FORMER Libyan envoy Rajab Azzarouq gave Abu Sayyaf an ultimatum, and told rebels holding 20 remaining Asian and western hostages in Sulu “to make up their minds.”
“You’ll be on your own,” Azzarouq told extremist rebels as he hinted at growing impatience over the slow-moving talks, while other negotiators expressed hopes for a release before President Estrada leaves for the United States on July 24.
The hostage saga, now on its 73rd day, also took on a stronger international flavor, as one of President Estrada’s assistants blamed the April 23 abduction on a Malaysian-based group seeking to destabilize some countries in Southeast Asia.
Malaysian military officials, meanwhile, bared suspicions that the raids on two military armories could be linked to the Mindanao conflict.
An Associated Press report said members of a gang that raided two military armories fought back an artillery assault Wednesday and held on to at least three hostages in the jungles of northern Malaysia.
Nearly 1,000 soldiers and policemen manned machine guns and created makeshift bunkers inside the dense forests where they have been battling the gunmen since Monday night.
Fresh fighting erupted early Wednesday when the gunmen tried to shoot their way out of an army commando cordon. Two gunbattles occurred, each lasting about 10 minutes, said a military officer speaking on condition of anonymity.
The band had taken more than 100 M-16 and Steyr assault rifles, grenade launchers and thousands of rounds of ammunition from the bases in Perak.
The government has not said if it has clues about where the weapons were headed, but independent military experts say the guns may have been stolen by mercenaries for use by Muslim separatist rebels in the southern Philippines or in Indonesia’s Aceh province.
‘Too long’
Azzarouq told reporters yesterday that he wanted release talks wrapped up in two or three days.
“I hope it will be a last trip to Sulu,” the former envoy said. “It has taken too long. We have given them enough time.”
Azzarouq said he was not giving up. “We will just go there to tell them it’s about time to find a solution,” he said, reiterating the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) appeal for the immediate release of hostages.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) admitted it has asked the OIC to prod Malaysia to take over release negotiations.
MNLF legal counsel Macapanton Abbas Jr. admitted his group had asked the OIC to recommend the intervention of Malaysia and the European Union.
“We told them na hindi kaya ng government and the OIC is considering this,” he told THE MANILA TIMES. The OIC is also eyeing help from Brunei and Indonesia, he added.
Abbas also said the government’s rejection of an amnesty for the kidnappers could spark a war in Sulu.
“What happens if the military operates in Sulu after the negotiations? If Sulu gets into a fight, Nur Misuari, being a native of the province, will be involved and then, eventually, the whole MNLF gets into the fight,” Abbas pointed out.
Sabah group
Presidential assistant secretary Farouk Hussain, a member of the four-man negotiating panel, said rebels could free some hostages before July 24.¨
-- Charmaine C. Deogracias with Reuters/AP

07 July 2000 - The Manila Times
By Manny B. Marinay, Herbie Gomez and Charmaine C. Deogracias
THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will not even discuss with government peace negotiators Malacañang’s offer of autonomy, until after national officials agree to an exclusive Muslim referendum on self-determination.
In a telephone interview, MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu also said the referendum should be monitored by a third party, preferably an Islamic country.
“The referendum will determine, once and for all, whether the Bangsamoro people want autonomy or secession,” Kabalu pointed out. “If this government really believes it is in the right, it will grant the Bangsamoro this exercise.”
Kabalu said rebels would undertake new tactics to pressure government into agreeing to a referendum covering Muslim-dominated areas of Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Cotabato.
Suicide bombers
Military intelligence officials, on the other hand, warned that rebels were upping the “terrorist factor,” with plans to use “suicide bombers.”
They also bared the first “concrete proof” of the MILF’s tactical alliance with the New People’s Army (NPA), citing the Wednesday raid on a security outpost of a private plantation in Compostela Valley.
While no one was hurt, the joint MILF-NPA force carted off three M-16 rifles, two M-14 rifles, and two handheld radios.
“This is a take it or leave it situation,” Kabalu stressed “There are no ongoing
negotiations through back-door channels whatsoever and no more peace negotiations.”
Even as the rebel spokesman discussed “one last chance for peace,” he confirmed that MILF chairman Hashim Salamat and top rebel leaders had completed defense plans for Camp Abubakar, the main rebel base now reeling from a week of air strikes.
Kabalu jeered at the military’s forecast of an easy walk into Abubakar. “Can this government really capture a 10,000-hectare camp? It would be very difficult for them. We have long prepared for our defenses,” he said.
--with a report from Faber Concepcion

07 July 2000 - Reuters
MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Joseph Estrada on Thursday ruled out a military raid to free 20 mostly foreign hostages held by Moslem rebels, warning it would mean death for some of the captives.
"It's a very complex problem. We cannot solve this through rash action. We'll have to sacrifice some of the lives of the hostages if we will launch commando-type operations," he said.
Earlier on Thursday, 18 town mayors in the Sulu island group -- which includes Jolo where the hostages are held -- met and said they would not object to a military rescue raid.
Jolo mayor Rashdi Abubakar told reporters the meeting passed a resolution urging formation of a new government negotiating panel but added the mayors expressed no objection to the "final option" of a military assault if Manila decided on it.
The sentiment underlined growing frustration over government inability to recover the captives held for more than 10 weeks by the Moslem fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.
"The government's primary concern is the safety of the hostages," Estrada said.
The Abu Sayyaf said earlier prayers from a group of Christian evangelists who have gone to the heavily fortified rebel camp on Jolo to pray for the release of the captives would not help.
"We will not be swayed by their prayers," rebel spokesman Abu Sabaya said, denying the rebels had also taken the Christians captive.
He said the evangelists, from a group known as the Jesus Miracle Crusade, had gone voluntarily to the guerrilla camp to carry out "prayer healing and fasting" for the hostages and were free to go.
But asked if there was a chance the evangelists would be allowed to take the hostages with them when they left the rebel camp, Sabaya said: "It depends if miracles will happen."
Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado said on Wednesday according to his information the rebels had detained the preachers, and a military spokesman said the rebels were demanding seven million pesos ($160,000) as an "exit fee" for the evangelists.
Abdusakur Tan, governor of the Sulu island group whose capital is Jolo, said on Thursday he had no information on rumours that one of the 13 preachers had been beheaded by the rebels and added: "I don't think that's true."
Farouk Hussain, presidential assistant secretary and a member of the government negotiating panel, told Reuters in Manila: "I doubt it. I just talked with my emissary in Jolo and he would have mentioned it to me but he did not. In that kind of a situation, anything can happen, of course. But I doubt it."
The hostages -- eight Malaysians, three Germans, two French nationals, two South Africans, two Finns, two Filipinos and one Lebanese -- were abducted from a Malaysian diving resort on April 23 and brought to Jolo, 960 km (600 miles) south of Manila.
A ninth Malaysian captive was freed about two weeks ago.
The rebels have demanded the establishment of an Islamic state in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines -- which Manila rejected -- and government negotiators said the issue might boil down to ransom.
Officials said the Abu Sayyaf had demanded $1.0 million for each hostage.
Pictures of the hostages taken by an emissary on Wednesday showed them whiling away their time in a tent somewhere in the Talipao forest, 15 km (nine miles) from Jolo town.
One picture showed German housewife Renate Wallert drinking from a plastic cup while a rebel commander was talking with her while another showed French nationals Stephane Loisy and Sonia Wendling reading what looked like typewritten messages.
A government negotiating team was to have left Manila for Jolo on Thursday to resume talks with the rebels but delayed its departure until Friday owing to bad weather.

07 July 2000 - ABS-CBN

QUEZON CITY, (ABS-CBN) - Defense secretary Orlando Mercado admitted on Thursday the military can do little to address threats by the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf to behead its 13 evangelist hostages in Jolo, Sulu.

"We cannot do much about it because we've been asked to pull back of our original position during the negotiations," Mercado said in an interview.

"Whereas before we had a military cordon in the area, now we have pulled back our troops. So I think it's now in the hands of Secretary (Robert) Aventajado," he added.

Mercado was reacting to published reports that the Abu Sayyaf is threatening to behead the 13 evangelists of the Jesus Miracle Crusade led by Wilde Almeda, whom the rebels recently took hostage.

The Abu Sayyaf earlier claimed that the evangelists were not being held captive but had requested to stay in the rebel lair for some 40 days to pray over the 20 mostly foreign hostages abducted from a Malaysian island resort last April.

Almeda's group reportedly handed over $3,000 and 35 sacks to the hostage-takers to enter their lair in the Talipao hinterlands last Saturday.

However, the rebels reportedly decided to hold the Christian group hostage until a P7-million ransom is paid.

Reports also said that one faction of the extremist group headed by Radulan Sahiron had earlier wanted to execute Almeda and his group for preaching the gospel in the rebel camp in Bandang, Talipao.

Other rebel leaders - Galib Andang and Mujib Susukan - were reportedly able to appease Sahiron eventually but not after a near shoot-out among the Abu Sayyaf members.

Apart from Almeda's group and the 20 mostly foreign hostages, the extremist rebels are also holding a German journalist whom they abducted last July 3.

A Filipino journalist who visited an Abu Sayyaf hideout in the village of Tiis Kutong told colleagues last Wednesday that he took photographs of Almeda and his 12 followers with their hands tied behind their backs.

Previously, the bandits released a Malaysian hostage, Zulkarinian Hashim, as an "act of goodwill" toward the Malaysian government.

07 July 2000 - ABS-CBN

SULU, (ABS-CBN) - The Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group has reportedly beheaded one of 13 Christian evangelists led by Jesus Miracle Crusade (JMC) leader Wilde Almeda.

The religious group ventured to the rebel lair last Saturday after paying the extremist group $3,000 and 35 sacks of rice to gain access to and pray over 20 mostly foreign hostages kidnapped from a Malaysian island resort last April 23.

Talipao mayor Tambrin Tulawie said he received reports of the beheading from people in the area who are "loyal " to him

He, however, said they still have to verify the accuracy of the reports.

"There are reports. We are trying to confirm that one of the 13 evangelists who went to the rebel camp was beheaded for still unknown reasons," Tulawie said .

His statement came a day after a faction of the Abu Sayyaf leadership reportedly tried to seize the 13 evangelists and "liquidate" them.

It was reported earlier that Abu Sayyaf kidnappers figured in a near shootout among themselves, as one faction tried to seize and liquidate Almeda and his 12 followers.

One faction of the Abu Sayyaf reportedly demanded a P7-million ransom for the release of Almeda's group, while the other faction wanted to kill them.

A German journalist, Andreas Lorenz of Der Spiegel magazine, was also captured by the bandits last week but no demand was given for his release.

Messianic complex ? 
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said Almeda and his 12 followers were ill-advised to go to the Abu Sayyaf den in the Talipao hinterlands in Jolo island.

"I am not going to belittle the work of Almeda's group. But the type of evangelical missionary action of Almeda puts a wedge between the Muslims and Christians," CBCP president Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said in a press briefing.

He had warned the JMC to be "very careful " in handling their evangelical missions. The prelate said he could only sympathize with Almeda's group.

Senator Robert Barbers also criticized Almeda for being "stubborn.'

"He has so much faith in the Lord that he believed he can convince them, well and good . . . if he fails , sorry na lang," Barbers said.

He called on the people to pray for the safety of Almeda and his followers.

Almeda, who claimed he could stop the war in Iraq in the early 1980's, may have had the best of intentions when he ignored warnings against going to the Abu Sayyaf lair.

Special powers
JMC member Robert Chua said he was not worried about the safety of Almeda's group , saying "God will protect them".

Chua claimed that Almeda has "special powers that will protect him from bullets".

"We believe that he has powers and he will not be hit by bullets even if he is shot." Chua added.

Speaking in Jolo where he awaits the return of Almeda's group from the Abu Sayyaf lair in the hinterlands of Talipao town, Chua said their strong faith in God will save them from danger.

"We will continue our peace mission . . . despite all obstacles," Chua stressed.

In an appeal to the Abu Sayyaf, aired over a government-run radio station, Chua asked the extremist guerillas to "stay calm and pray with Almeda".

The military confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers wanted P7 million in "exit fee" for Almeda's group.

However, Chua said they have not yet received any ransom demand.

News of the kidnapping was bolstered by Chua's own admission that Almeda had told him they would be in the Abu Sayyaf camp for only three days.

Fighting over moneyAbu Sayyaf leader Ghalib Andang alias Commander Robot denied they were holding Almeda's group hostage.

He said that the preachers were staying in their camp of their free will for a 40-day fast.

A Filipino journalist who visited the Abu Sayyaf camp in the village of Tiis Kutung told colleagues the other day that he took photographs of Almeda and his 12 followers with their hands tied behind their backs.

The condition of the 20 initial hostages, consisting of eight Malaysians, three Germans, two South Africans, two French nationals, two Finns, two Filipinos, and one Lebanese, remains unknown. Government negotiators have not seen them for more than a month now.
The Abu Sayyaf bandits have made political demands and asked for $1 million for each of the 20 hostages.

A highly placed source said Lorenz was being held in the jungle village of Kan Baddal in Patikul town, Sulu, by a nephew of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron.

The source said Lorenz may be permitted by his captors to visit the 10 Caucasian hostages who were being held separately from the 10 Asians.

Andang reportedly prevented a plan by Sahiron's faction to execute the 13 Christian preachers.

Sahiron allegedly resented he was not given a share of the $3,000 paid by Almeda.

Tulawie said he received reports that the Abu Sayyaf leaders were quarreling over alleged ransom money paid to them for the release of Malaysian hostage Zulkurnain bin Hashim last month.

A quarrel among the Abu Sayyaf leaders on Tuesday almost resulted in a gun battle, intelligence sources claimed.

No ransom demand has been given for Lorenz's release.

Separate talks
As this developed, police asked local officials to launch separate talks with the Abu Sayyaf to release the evangelists and the foreign journalist.

"We have tapped local officials in working for the speedy release of the victims through peaceful, localized negotiations," provincial police chief Candido Casimiro said Thursday.

This, as government negotiator and former Libyan ambassador to the Philippines Abdul Rajab Azzarouq stressed he was not negotiating for the release of the preachers or the German journalist.

"We know the general location of the Christian preachers and the German reported, but it's tactical information we cannot divulge at this time," Casimiro said.

He said police presence in the Jolo capital has been increased to secure a group of local and foreign journalists covering the crisis.

"We briefed the reporters about the situation here and we dissuaded them from going to the rebel camp," he said.

07 July 2000 - AFP
JOLO, Sulu (AFP) -- Abu Sayyaf gunmen yesterday pledged to free a German journalist from among their 37 hostages within the week while denying they beheaded another captive, a government emissary said.
The Abu Sayyaf leaders said Andreas Lorenz of Der Spiegel magazine, who was snatched last Sunday, was to be released this week without any ransom, according to the emissary who visited the kidnapers' jungle hideout yesterday afternoon on orders of Jolo Gov. Abdusakur Tan.
The emissary told reporters that Abu Sayyaf leader Galib Andang also assured him that all the 37 hostages are alive, contrary to reports from a local official that one of 13 Filipino Christian preachers held while visiting the gunmen had been beheaded.
None of the hostages were shown to the emissary.
Lorenz was covering the prolonged detention of 20 mostly foreign hostages, including three other Germans, who were abducted in the Malaysian resort of Sipadan on April 23.
The Abu Sayyaf also holds two Filipino teachers and a student they abducted in Basilan in March.

07 July 2000 - ABS-CBN

JOLO, SULU (ABS-CBN) - Chief government negotiator Robert Aventajado denied on Friday reports that the extremist Abu Sayyaf group beheaded one of the 13 Christian evangelists in their lair. The group is headed by Jesus Miracle Crusade (JMC) leader Wilde Almeda.

The religious group ventured to the rebel lair last Saturday after paying the extremist group $3,000 and 35 sacks of rice. The JMC sought to pray over the foreign hostages of the Abu Sayyaf.
Abu Sayyaf commander Galib Andang, alias Commander Robot earlier denied they are holding the missionaries as captives saying the latter volunteered to remain in the area for a 40-day "religious fast." 
Aventajado's assertion comes after Talipao mayor Tambrin Tulawie said he received reports of the beheading from people in the area.

Aventajado also confirmed plans by the Abu Sayyaf leaders to further divide their hostages into groups of 10 to foil any rescue attempt by government troops.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said the Abu Sayyaf group indeed held the preachers against their will saying a ransom of P7 million was being demanded for their release.

Also, a Filipino journalist who visited the Abu Sayyaf camp in the village of Tiis Kutung told colleagues he took photographs of Almeda and his 12 followers with their hands tied behind their backs.

It was also reported earlier that Abu Sayyaf kidnappers figured in a near shootout among themselves, as one faction tried to seize and liquidate Almeda and his 12 followers.

One faction of the Abu Sayyaf reportedly demanded the P7-million ransom, while the other faction wanted to kill them.

08 July 2000 - AFP
JOLO, Philippines, July 7 (AFP) - Muslim extremist gunmen are expected to free a German journalist from among their 37 hostages in this southern Philippine island soon, a government negotiator said Friday.
Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sajiron pledged to a government emissary that Andreas Lorenz, 48, would be freed as early as Friday after the group called off his scheduled release overnight, provincial governor Abdusakur Tan told reporters.
The Der Spiegel magazine reporter was abducted on Sunday as he covered a 10-week-old hostage crisis which started in the Malaysian resort of Sipadan on Easter Sunday.
The original captives included three other Germans and seven fellow tourists from Finland, France, Lebanon, and South Africa as well as 11 Malaysian and Filipino resort workers. One of the nine Malaysians was freed last month.
Sajiron publicly denied having abducted Lorenz in a letter to journalists here Friday.
But Tan said Sajiron assured his emissary during a visit to the Abu Sayyaf hideout on Thursday afternoon that the group had indeed detained the reporter and that he would be handed over without ransom.
Aside from the Westerners and the resort workers, the Abu Sayyaf are holding two Filipino teachers and a high school student they abducted from the nearby island of Basilan in March.
On Saturday they also detained 13 Filipino Christian preachers who paid money to visit their hideout and "pray over" the hostages. Another Abu Sayyaf leader, Galib Andang on Thursday denied a report that one of the evangelists had been beheaded.
The Abu Sayyaf kidnappers, who style themselves as freedom fighters battling for an independent Muslim homeland, have demanded a ransom of one million dollars each for their Easter Sunday hostages.
They have also made various political demands.
There is rising concern here for the the original hostages who have not been seen by outsiders this month amid disturbing reports that the Sajiron and Andang factions were feuding over ransom money they supposedly raised for the freed Malaysian hostage.
Influential Libyan mediator Rajab Azzarouq was due here Friday to deliver an ultimatum to the kidnappers, governor Tan said. He had aborted his flight to Jolo on Thursday due to bad weather in Manila.
Azzarouq, a former Libyan ambassador to the Philippines who previously helped negotiate the release of hostages in the southern Philippines, said on Wednesday he would tell the Abu Sayyaf to accept a package of development aid in exchange for the 20 original hostages.
He said he would also warn the rebels that "if you don't accept our package, you are on your own and you have to face the music, which could be tragic."

08 July 2000 - The Manila Bulletin
Chief government negotiator Roberto Aventajado said yesterday that internal factionalism in the Abu Sayyaf is hampering the speedy release of the remaining 20 foreign and local hostages held in Bandag, Talipao, Jolo.
The feud among five leaders of the group is only one of several factors that has affected the bid of the government to effect the release of the hostages, he said.
Aventajado is the chief government negotiator with the Abu Sayyaf which has been making various demands from the government for the release of the hostages.
He said one faction was led by Commaders Robot and Susokan and another by Commanders Radolan, Abu, and Nadski.
Also yesterday, at Camp Crame in Quezon City, Aventajado belied reports that one of the preachers of the Jesus Miracle Crusade led by Bro. Wilde Almeda was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf who were allegedly annoyed by their singing.
He quoted Mayor Tamrin Tulawei of Talipao as saying the beheading is not true.


"Jesus Miracle Crusade leader Wilde Almeda and his 13 preachers deserve equal attention and assistance from the government should there be a need for it, just like the foreign hostages still being held by the Abu Sayyaf in their hideouts in Sulu."
Sen. Robert Barbers issued the statement as Almeda and the 12 other members of the Jesus Miracle Crusade spent their sixth day in the hinterlands of Talipao, where they are allegedly being held against their will by the extremist group. The evangelists entered the Abu Sayyaf camp last July 1 to pray over the mostly 20 foreign hostages there.
The former interior and local government secretary noted that while Almeda may have breached certain rules by failing to coordinate with the authorities in moving into the Abu Sayyaf territory, the Jesus Miracle Crusade members should not be ridiculed or berated because they had only the best of intentions in doing so.
"All they wanted was to pray over the hostages, who, at their most trying times, are in need of spiritual upliftment. Almeda and his 12 followers had so much faith in God that they believe they can move mountains through prayers. What's wrong with that?" he said.
Instead of belittling the efforts of the Jesus Miracle Crusade evangelists, Barbers suggested that if the reports are true that Almeda's group has been kidnapped, the military must start getting its act together to save them and the other remaining hostages.

No beheading

The Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry issued a statement yesterday denying that one of its members who joined a peace and prayer mission in an Abu Sayyaf-controlled section in Mindanao has been beheaded.
Pastor Frank Rola, a deputy of Wilde E. almeda, head of the ministry, said: "Contrary to the misleading and false report, all the 13 members of the peace and prayer mission led by Evangelist Almeda himself are safe and sound."
"In fairness to the missionaries and their families and the general public who have been suffering from fear on account of the snsational news reports, let me strongly declare that those reports are not true," Rola said.
He said he is in touch with the crusaders every minute every day and there is no such report about the beheading of any JMCIM member.
Rola said he had a long-distance talk with Robert Chua, a JMCIM member in Jolo, who vehemently denied the report of a beheading.
Chua told Rola that through his own network, he knows that the crusaders are safe. Rola, however, confirmed published reports that two camps of the rebel group had a misunderstanding due to some Abu Sayyaf hotheads who wanted to kill the evangelists.
"We thank our God Almighty for not allowing the evil act to happen," he said.
The new clash was between the group of Radulan Sajiron, Dr. Abu Jundail, and Nadzmi Saabdula who wanted the evangelists killed "for creating noise with their spiritual chants and songs," and the friendly group of Commander Andang and Susukan and Abua Sabaya who treated the Christian workers as "guests not hostages."
Rola said he evangelist had earlier sought the approval of Malacañang to undertake the Mindanao peace mission.
"When the Palace did not act on his proposal, he undertook the prayer and peace mission by himself, armed only with a tremendous faith in the Lord and a hard decision to bring home the hostages," Rola said, as he urged the public to pray for them and the hostages too. (Jun Velasco)

08 July 2000 - The Manila Times
PHILIPPINE National Police (PNP) Director General Panfilo Lacson has asked Cabinet Cluster E to allow his elite cop force to take over the 75-day Abu Sayyaf hostage crisis.
At a press conference, Lacson said members of the Presidential Anti-Organize Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) also have jungle combat capabilities, having trained with the British SAS forces.
He said they were ready for a rescue operation “in three days” should release talks fail.
The PNP chief, who had also batted for a commando raid during an earlier hostage situation in Basilan, said police were better suited to dealing with bandits than regular Army forces.
“I have made the recommendation but we will leave it all up to the wisdom of the leadership and the negotiating body to decide on that,” he said.
The Sulu crisis, he insisted, is a simple police matter, as neutralizing kidnap-for-ransom gangs is within the PNP’s mandate.
“The moment we are given orders, I am confident we can ably handle the situation,” Lacson said. “We are constantly on alert and rehearsing.”
As Lacson volunteered to take on the extemist rebels, government negotiators exchanged words with a group allegedly favored by kidnappers.
The Sultan of Sulu and a former general claimed to “hold the key” to the release of 20 Asian and western hostages seized April 23 from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan. They also promised to work for the freedom of evangelist Wilde Almeda and 12 disciples and German journalist Lorenz Andreas.
Chief government negotiator Robert Aventajado nixed the inclusion of the two men in his panel. He said they were welcome to work “independently,” but warned that efforts by do-gooders had only succeeded in complicating talks with the Abu Sayyaf.
Aventajado also Almeda and the journalist were negotiators’ “last priorities,” as he dismissed reports that some of Almeda’s companions had been beheaded.
“They (evangelists) are so hard-headed. But since we are Filipinos and they too are, we will help them with their condition. But our policy would be first in, first out,” Aventajado said.
“Well, I believe in God. I believe in religion. And I believe in prayers but with the situation there, we inhibited them from going. It is too risky to be there. It is their fault. They have complicated it,” Aventajado said.
He refused to respond to police claims that leaders of an Abu Sayyaf faction have threatened to attack Commander Robot if he does not agree to split the hostages into two groups.
Aventajado likewise denied intelligence reports of the rise of a new Abu Sayyaf commander, Malaysian-trained Say Fol Islam, but confirmed the brewing feud among guerrilla leaders.
Camp Crame officials said Commander Robot and Mujib Susukan are wrangling with the Patikul and Samak groups.
-- Marian Trinidad and Charmaine Deogracias

08 July 2000 - ABS-CBN

JOLO, (ABS-CBN) - The Sangguniang Panlalawigan and mayors of the 18 municipalities in Sulu have expressed dissatisfaction with chief negotiator Robert Aventajado's handling of the hostage crisis.

They passed a resolution asking President Estrada to form another negotiating team composed of local executives, headed by Sulu governor Abdusakur Tan who is already a part of the Aventajado-led negotiating panel.

Confirming this, Tan told The World Tonight: "That was the consensus in the joint meeting of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council and Peace and Order Council. Local leaders want to help in the negotiations."

"The resolution adopted yesterday (Thursday) has not been forwarded but there's a meeting tomorrow (Saturday) between Secretary Aventajado and members of the Peace and Order council," Tan added.

Asked how the local team could make the difference in the negotiations, Tan stressed, "We can put pressure on the community."

The 18 Sulu municipalities include Jolo, Indanan, Kalingalan, Caluang, Lugus, Luuk, Maimbung, Old Panamao, Pandami, Panglima Estino (New Panamao), Pangutaran, Parang, Pata, Patikul, Siasi, Talipao, Tapul, and Tongkil.

Tan clarified local leaders only want to help in the negotiations which have been complicated by the kidnapping of 13 evangelists of the Jesus Miracle Crusade (JMC), led by Wilde Almeda.

The evangelists handed over $3,000 and 35 sacks of rice to gain access and pray over the 20 mostly foreign hostages the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped from a Malaysian diving resort last April 23.

Aventajado's team also has to deal with the reportedly demanded P10-million ransom for the release of ailing German hostage Renate Wallert, and Filipino hostages Lucresia Dablo and Roland Ulla.

But Abu Sayyaf commander Ghalib Andang alias Commander Robot had denied holding Almeda and his 13-man group, saying it was of the group's own free will to stay.

So far, the only breakthrough in the three-month hostage crisis came with the release of Malaysian hostage Zulkaiman Hashim some two weeks back.

More negotiators
Meanwhile, the Sultan of Sulu Rodinod Kiram II and the former Philippine ambassador to Riyadh, Romulo Espaldon, have volunteered their services as negotiators.

Kiram and Espaldon went to Malacañang on Friday to ask President Estrada to appoint them as negotiators. However, they failed to see the President.

Kiram and Espaldon are confident they will be able to free at least three of the captives without paying ransom. One of them, they said, would be Wallert.

"I am their Sultan, they respect me," Kiram said, as he also revealed that he had done favors for the Abu Sayyaf in the past.

Asked about the tandem of Kiram and Espaldon, Tan said he believes this will lead to complications within the negotiating panel and jeopardize the talks.

"They will only complicate negotiations . . . they would not know anything about the area," Tan said.

Concerned journalists
The plight of German journalist Andreas Lorenz, who was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf last Sunday, remains uncertain.

Local and foreign journalists covering the 75-day Sulu hostage crisis took up the cudgels for Lorenz and called on the Abu Sayyaf for his safe release.

Among them are Philippine News Agency reporter Majal Sienes, photographer Melvin Calderon, Armed Forces of the Philippines photographer Romy Cagad, and Reuters reporter John Gilbuena.

In a letter signed by 16 journalists, they called on the rebel group not to harm the Der Spiegel reporter since he had not committed any act against the Abu Sayyaf.

The concerned journalists also sought the help of Tan and other local executives to negotiate for Lorenz's freedom.

Until now, Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron denies knowldge of Lorenz's abduction despite its confirmation by the police.

(With reports Mandy Francisco and Gigi Grande)

09 July 2000 - ABS-CBN

MANILA (ABS-CBN) - Chief government negotiator Robert Aventajado on Saturday blocked a request by National Police Chief Panfilo Lacson to take over the Basilan and Sulu hostage crises.

Aventajado made the gesture following Lacson's reported disclosure that he would resort to a commando-type operation to rescue the hostages.

The chief negotiator, who is also the presidential adviser on Flagship Projects asked the PNP not to take such action as it would only complicate even more the situation.

"He (Lacson) doesn't know the status of the ongoing negotiations. He should have consulted the panel first before announcing his plan in order to alarm the Abu Sayyaf," Aventajado said.

Muslim bandits the Abu Sayyaf have reportedly split into several groups the 20 foreigners they abducted from a Sipadan Island beach resort last April 23. The group also seized a German journalist and 13 members of the Jesus Miracle Crusade led by televangelist Wilde Almeda last week.

Aside from the 34 hostages in Sulu, another Abu Sayyaf faction is also keeping three more captives in Basilan province.

A Malacañang official who requested anonymity likewise downplayed the seriousness of Lacson when he made such an announcement.

"If Lacson really meant it, he will not make such announcement. Even Secretary Aventajado does not believe that such was really made by General Lacson. I think, he just said that for the sake of saying it," the official said.

09 July 2000 - The Manila Bulletin

Freedom may soon be a reality for a German journalist and eight Malaysian hostages still being held by the Abu Sayyaf bandit group in Jolo, Sulu.

Reports said backdoor talks are being conducted by unnamed emissaries for the release of German magazine Der Spiegel's Andreas Lorenz and the eight Malaysians.

The Malaysians are part of the 21 original captives, along with three Germans, two South Africans, two Finns, two French, two Filipinos, and a Lebanese, snatched on April 23 from Malaysia's Sipadan Island resort by Jolo's Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

A Malaysian hostage was released last week. Lorenz was kidnaped a few days ago by another set of gun men who are reportedly not members of the Sipadan hostage takers but lured by the prospect of getting ransom money.
The reports said backdoor negotiations were "gaining ground on Saturday" even as some Malaysian authorities are now awaiting in Zamboanga City for the release of their compatriots.
Their freedom could come before President Joseph Estrada's visit to the United States on July 24, the President's spokesman, Secretary Ricardo Puno, said on Friday, voicing optimism on the long-drawn hostage crisis.
However, diplomat Rajab Azzarouq, former Libyan envoy to Manila and one of the negotiators in Secretary Robert Aventajado's team of negotiators, told the Manila Bulletin that he has no knowledge of the supposed release of Lorenz and the eight Malaysians.
Azzarouq said he knows, though, that other Malaysians are working for their countrymen's freedom, but that's all. "I am not aware of any impending release," he said.
He said he does not believe in giving a timetable for the hostage crisis' end, adding "if you give yourself a timetable here and there, you might end up not meeting your time limit."
The Jolo bandits' captives have increased to 37 with the arrival in the ASG's camp of television evangelist Wilde Almeda and 12 of his people. They brought "gifts" of $3,000 and sacks of rice to the gunmen but they have now been added to the hostages.
Azzarouq said the negotiating team is waiting for the arrival in Manila of another negotiator, Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who was to leave Jolo yesterday afternoon.

The Libyan ambassador said Tan will brief Aventajado and the rest of the negotiating team and then a course of action will be planned based on the outcome of the meeting. (Edd K. Usman)

09 July 2000 - ABS-CBN

JOLO SULU (ABS-CBN) - Backdoor negotiations to seek the release of a German journalist and eight Malaysians held by the Abu Sayyaf group gained ground Saturday, sources close to the rebels said.

Emissaries are meeting with the Abu Sayyaf guerillas outside Jolo town and there are signs that the kidnappers may agree to release the Malaysians seized on April 23, and a German journalist kidnapped last weekend.

Final details are already being worked out for the freedom of German journalist Andreas Lorenz and the emissary meeting on his behalf is expected to bring him out of captivity soon, the sources said.

The kidnappers earlier pledged to provincial governor Abdusakur Tan, one of the government negotiators, they would release Lorenz this week. 

Another emissary, meeting on behalf of the eight Malaysians, is also close to working out an arrangement for their release. Authorities from Malaysia are already waiting in the nearby city of Zamboanga for the Malaysians to be set free, sources added.

On Friday, President Joseph Estrada's spokesman, Ricardo Puno said he was optimistic the crisis would be resolved before Estrada departs for a ten-day visit to the United States on July 24.

However, the government has warned that quarreling among the kidnap leaders over money could delay any release.

Observers said that money inevitably changed hands in the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping, but emissaries were tight-lipped over the issue as the government insisted that it would not pay ransom.

The military earlier reported that two factions of the Abu Sayyaf had almost shot it out earlier this week over the fate of 13 Filipino Christian preachers detained on July 1. The group visited the Abu Sayyaf camp to pray over the other hostages.

Although official government negotiators have not met with the Abu Sayyaf for weeks, unofficial emissaries continue to keep the talks alive.

Last month, emissaries persuaded the Abu Sayyaf to release one Malaysian hostage, a forest ranger.

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