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Thursday, 7 September, 2000, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Jolo hostage release 'imminent'
Securitymen in Zamboanga
Security has been tightened to prevent further hostage-taking
The Philippines Government says it expects Muslim rebels to release six Europeans and a Filipino they are holding hostage within the next 24 hours.

But according to one report, a shortage of ransom money may stop the rebels releasing all six Europeans.

"It's all systems go for tomorrow," said the top Philippines negotiator, Robert Aventajado.

He said he would fly on a private jet with Libyan mediator Rajab Azzarouq on Friday to the southern island of Jolo, where the Abu Sayyaf rebels are holding the hostages.

Libyan money

The two earlier secured the release of six Western hostages, who were repatriated to their countries last week, amid reports that Libya had paid aid money to the south of the country in exchange for their freedom.

But an official close to the negotiating team, quoted by the Associated Press news agency, said the Libyan officials who arrived this week brought $4m - enough to pay for only four of the hostages.

Libya insists the money will go towards development projects, not directly to the rebels.

But it has resisted paying for two of the remaining hostages - both French television journalists seized while covering the hostage crisis. Libya says their company should foot the bill.

Apart from the two journalists, the rebels are still holding two Finns, a German and a Frenchman. They were among a group of tourists abducted from the Malaysian resort of Sipadan on 23 April.

The two journalists have been held since July. They had originally been sent to Jolo to cover the hostage crisis but were themselves seized.

Ambassadors from the hostages' countries are due to fly to the southern port city of Zamboanga to receive the captives.

Rajab Azzarouq
Libyan envoy Rajab Azzarouq has played a key role in negotiations
The rebels have missed many previous deadlines, and have voiced concerns that the Philippines military may launch an assault once all the hostages are freed.

The rebels failed to telephone the negotiators as expected on Thursday to confirm the release, the official close to the negotiating team said.

American hostage

A separate rebel faction is holding an American, Jeffrey Schilling, kidnapped early last week.

The government negotiator working for Mr Schilling's release said emissaries had contacted a rebel spokesman, Abu Sabaya, but negotiations had not yet begun.

Jeffrey Schilling
The US refuses to pay a ransom for Jeffrey Schilling

An intelligence report said that Mr Schilling, 24, was handcuffed and imprisoned in an animal-style wooden pen, after he reportedly tried to resist his captors.

But a Philippines official rejected the report, saying Mr Schilling appeared to be in good condition.

Mr Schilling was taken hostage on 28 August by rebels who claimed he was a spy for the US intelligence agency, the CIA.

The rebels have demanded a ransom of $10m for his release.

The Abu Sayyaf group, which is fighting for an Islamic state in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, has been in the limelight for its hostage-taking spree in recent months.

A faction of the group is still holding 12 Filipino evangelists hostage.

The evangelists had gone to Jolo to fast and pray for the hostages, when they were themselves take hostage.

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See also:

01 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Rebels seek $10m for US hostage
30 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Militants threaten to behead hostage
02 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf hostage-takers?
27 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hostages' four-month ordeal
27 Aug 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Why did Libya intervene?
02 May 00 | World
Analysis: How hostages cope
27 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Five hostages go free
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