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The BBC's John McLean
"The raiders set fire to buildings and rounded up dozens of people"
 real 56k

Rigoberto Tiglao, spokesman for Gloria Arroyo
"Our policy remains unchanged, we cannot pay ransom"
 real 56k

Monday, 11 June, 2001, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Philippines offer averts beheading
Suspected Abu Sayyaf fighters
The Philippines army is pursuing the Abu Sayyaf rebels
A Muslim rebel leader in the southern Philippines has postponed the threatened execution of three US hostages, after the government agreed to bring in a Malaysian negotiator.

The offer came just minutes before a deadline by which Abu Sayyaf rebels had threatened to behead one of the hostages being held on Basilan island - and hours after they seized another group of 15 hostages.

Philippines soldier
The Philippines army is still ready for action
Four children, including two 12 year-olds, were among the new hostages. They were seized when rebels raided a coconut plantation in the Lantawan area of Basilan, a military spokesman said.

The owners and a security guard were also taken, and two buildings, including a chapel, were burnt down during the raid.

"I hope they don't touch the children," said the town's Mayor Tahira Ishmail. "They're innocent."

Military officials on Basilan said Abu Sayyaf were trying to split the army forces by carrying out "diversionary operations".

The military has warned the rebels that there could be reprisals against their relatives if the hostages are harmed.

Malaysian role

The Philippine government - which had refused to negotiate with the rebels - rejected suggestions it had buckled to terrorist blackmail on Monday.

But the agreement to send former Malaysian senator Sairin Karno as a mediator marks a sharp change of policy.

American hostages Martin and Gracia Burnham
The Americans were abducted on 27 May
"If ... Sairin can help, we have no objection... We want to solve this crisis in any manner," said Philippines Government spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao.

A businessman, Yusuf Hamdan, said he would also accompany Mr Sairin if the Malaysian Government approved.

Mr Hamdan said he had had a telephone conversation with the rebel leader, Abu Sabaya, earlier on Monday, pleading for the life of the American captives.

"I told him it is an inhuman act. Please, as Muslims it is against our religion to do it," Mr Yusuf told AFP news agency.

Abu Sabaya had threatened to behead a hostage at noon local time if the Malaysian was not brought in.

Asked whether he would kill an American or a Filipino, he said: "I will make sure it will be a white."

Ransom money

Last year, negotiators arranged the release of more Abu Sayyaf hostages, reportedly in exchange for millions of dollars in ransom money.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on Sunday that paying ransom would only feed a cycle of kidnappings.

Map
The rebels have been holding three US citizens - two Christian missionaries, Martin and Gracia Burnham - and Californian Guillermo Sobrero, as well as at least 10 Filipinos.

Along with 17 Filipinos, the three Americans were abducted from a resort off the western island of Palawan on 27 May and taken to the southern island of Basilan.

Nine hostages escaped, two were killed and the Abu Sayyaf seized four more captives from a hospital they occupied.

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See also:

11 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf
06 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine rebels: US hostage 'hurt'
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
29 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine rebels threaten hostages
30 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf?
20 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Gloria Arroyo: Contrast in styles
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