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The BBC's John McLean in Manila
"The authorities have been distributing wanted posters"
 real 56k

Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Philippine military pursues kidnappers
Troops on Basilan island
The government wants the army to end the crisis
The Philippines military has blockaded a 100 km (60-mile) stretch of water after reports that a booby-trapped boat with hostages abducted by Abu Sayyaf rebels has been spotted.

Local residents said the boat was seen near Keenapusan Island. The area is an hour away by water from Mapun Island, where the hostages were reportedly spotted before.

The boat was reportedly ringed with grenades tied with string which could set them off when pulled.


The 20 hostages, including three Americans, were snatched on Sunday from a beach resort on the country's southern Palawan Island.

A general said that once the hostage-takers were found, "the shooting will start," the Associated Press news agency reported.

The Philippines Government has deployed troops to hunt the hostage-takers, and says it will not enter any bargaining with the Abu Sayyaf group.

But the rebels said they would not "think twice" about a mass killing of the hostages if a military offensive was launched.

Abu Sabaya (file photo)
Rebel Abu Sabaya (left) threatened to kill the hostages on a radio interview
The Muslim separatist group reportedly received millions of dollars in a ransom payment last year in another high-profile hostage crisis, when foreign tourists were held for several months.

The United States said it was in close contact with the Philippines Government over the massive military operation, and offered help, although this would probably involve intelligence-gathering rather than military aid, officials said.

Belongings

The Philippine military said on Thursday that it had recovered some personal belongings on the southern island of Basilan and was checking whether these belonged to the hostages.

Sobero
US citizen Guillermo Sobero is among the hostages

Personal items of the hostages were found on Mapun, also known as Cawagan de Tawi-Tawi, where hostages were spotted.

Most of those seized from the resort in Palawan were ethnic Chinese Filipino tourists.

Kansas-born missionary Martin Burnham and his wife, and Guillermo Sobero from California, as well as four resort staff, were among those seized.

The rebels have reportedly split the hostages into three groups and taken them to different places.

However, information about rebel and troop movements has been limited, due to a media blackout.

The Philippines Government is also offering a reward of just under US $2m for information leading to the arrest of leaders and members of the group that carried out the kidnapping.

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See also:

29 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine rebels threaten hostages
28 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Assault ordered on kidnappers
27 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines hostage search begins
02 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Arroyo declares war on Abu Sayyaf
01 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hostage drama highlights bitter conflict
02 May 00 | World
Analysis: How hostages cope
02 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf hostage-takers?
16 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Neglect fuels Philippines conflict
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