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Sunday, 5 August, 2001, 03:44 GMT 04:44 UK
Hostages rescued in the Philippines
Militiamen inspect a school building razed by the Abu Sayyaf in the town of Lamitan
The militants took the hostages in a raid on Lamitan
The army in the Philippines has rescued 13 Filipino hostages after a gun battle with members of the militant Muslim group Abu Sayyaf, the military says.

The hostages were freed before dawn on Sunday, when the soldiers stormed the militants' hideout outside the town of Isabela, the capital of Basilan island, about 900km (560 miles) south of Manila, army spokesman Major Alberto Gepilano said.

Police and militia search for the head of the decapitated body of a hostage found near Lamitan
The army says the militants have beheaded 10 hostages
"Undetermined number of enemies were killed in the operation. Troops stormed an area where the terrorist where holed out in the jungle and at least 13 hostages were safely rescued including children," the major told the AFP news agency.

The Abu Sayyaf say they are fighting for independence for the Muslim minority in the south of the mainly Christian Philippines.

Raid on Lamitan

The 13 rescued hostages were among about 35 villagers captured by Abu Sayyaf in a raid on the town of Lamitan on Basilan on Thursday.

The army spokesman said the guerrillas beheaded 10 hostages, while 12 others were either released or had escaped.

The Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan is still holding around 20 people captured during raids in May, including two Americans taken from a luxury beach resort.

Abu Sayyaf rebels
Abu Sayyaf rebels are based in the Sulu islands
One hostage freed earlier passed on a demand from the Abu Sayyaf that the government stop its operation against the militants, a military source said on Saturday.

But Lieutenant General Jose Camiling rejected the demand.

"This cannot divert us from our main objective in crushing the group," he said.

Kidnapping campaign

Last week the Abu Sayyaf threatened to retaliate against Christians after the government detained about 100 suspected sympathisers of the movement.

But the BBC's John McLean in Manila says their principal occupation appears to be kidnapping for ransom.

They have abducted dozens of people since May, and even before the latest kidnappings had already killed at least four hostages.

They are still holding an American missionary couple, Martin and Gracia Burnham.

They say they have beheaded a third US man, Guillermo Sobero, but his body has never been found.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John MacLean in Manila
"There was a brief exchange of gunfire"
Brigadier General Edilberto Adan
is a spokesman for the Philippine army
See also:

04 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines kidnappers kill nine
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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