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Last Updated: Monday, 12 April, 2004, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Philippines hunt for fugitives
By John McLean
BBC correspondent in Manila

The Philippine President, Gloria Arroyo, has given her security forces permission to seal off an entire province in the south of the country in their efforts to kill or recapture 19 escaped prisoners.

Philippines police identify the bodies of the dead escapees
Nine of the fugitives have already been killed
Fifty-three prisoners escaped from a jail in the province of Basilan on Saturday, including at least eight suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf, a group of armed Filipino Muslims whom the government considers terrorists.

The authorities say they have since killed nine of the fugitives and recaptured 25.

In a written statement, President Gloria Arroyo told the security forces to get the fugitives first and argue later about who was to blame for their escape.

She said that if it was necessary to cordon off the entire province of Basilan, so be it.

Abu Sayyaf targeted

Basilan, an island province in the southern Philippines, was once a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

For the most part, the Abu Sayyaf are kidnappers and extortionists.

But they are regarded here and in Washington as terrorists because they once had links with Osama Bin Laden.

Troops and police are continuing their search for the missing prisoners, several of whom are believed to have fled towards the mountainous forested interior of the island, where the Abu Sayyaf once had their headquarters.

Several of the prisoners who have been killed or recaptured by the security forces are suspected Abu Sayyaf members, but so are some of those still at large.

Mrs Arroyo has ordered an investigation into the mass escape.

The armed forces have said that they had previously warned the jail authorities that an escape attempt was imminent.

Militants flee Philippines jail
10 Apr 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Abu Sayyaf leader killed
08 Apr 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Philippines bomb plot 'thwarted'
30 Mar 04  |  Asia-Pacific


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