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Saturday, 4 August, 2001, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
Philippines kidnappers kill nine
Hostage bodies in Lamitan
The bodies are being taken to a local town
Suspected Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines have killed four more kidnap victims, bringing the total to nine since the hostages were seized on Thursday.

Villagers from Balobo, near Lamitan on the island of Basilan, have flooded into Lamitan's funeral parlour to identify the victims, all male Christians from the Philippines.

Everybody here is very sad

Local Mayor Innocente Ramos
The mayor of Lamitan said the Abu Sayyaf militants still held around 13 captives from Thursday's raid. Some escaped, others were set free and at least nine were beheaded, he said.

Mayor Innocente Ramos added that some 140 families had been evacuated from Balobo.

"Everybody here is very sad. There should be a non-stop operation (to capture the militants)", Mayor Ramos said.

Soldiers inspect the remains of a building burned by the Abu Sayyaf
Some 5,000 troops are searching for the Abu Sayyaf
Senator Rodolfo Biazon, who saw corpses being loaded onto a truck, said the government should do more.

"I am calling on the government to send in more troops to solve this problem as soon as possible," he said.

The military has been hunting the Abu Sayyaf gunmen for more than two months, since the militants carried out a spree of kidnappings in late May.

Running battles

Some 5,000 troops and police have been despatched to try to catch them, with little success.

They engaged the guerrillas in running gunbattles on Saturday, but the terrain favours the militants.

A military spokesman said that 21 soldiers and 59 Abu Sayyaf members had been killed since June.

Abu Sayyaf rebels
Abu Sayyaf rebels are based in the Sulu islands
The Abu Sayyaf say that they are fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines, but the BBC's John McLean in Manila says their main activity seems to be taking hostages for ransom.

In May, they attacked a luxury resort and seized 20 people, including three Americans, before fleeing to Basilan island.

They say that they killed American Guillermo Sobero of California, but no body has been found.

As the hunt for the Abu Sayyaf continued, two larger Muslim militant groups agreed to merge, raising hopes of a peace agreement with the government.

The Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed their agreement in Malaysia.

See also:

13 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines bodies identified
11 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf
03 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine rebels escape siege
02 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines hostage crisis deepens
01 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine troops battle kidnappers
30 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf?
28 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Filipino rebel group claim kidnappings
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