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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Arroyo makes U-turn on death penalty
Escaped Abu Sayyaf hostages
Some of the Abu Sayyaf's hostages have escaped
Philippines President Gloria Arroyo said on Monday she would order the immediate executions of up to 95 convicted kidnappers after the Supreme Court had reviewed their cases.

Once the Supreme Court confirms the death penalty ... I will affirm them and have them executed immediately

President Gloria Arroyo
President Arroyo, who said on coming to power in January she would not order any executions, told Filipino-Chinese community leaders she needed to "strike fear" into the hearts of criminals.

There has been an upsurge in kidnappings this year with many of the victims being affluent Filipino Chinese.

Ransoms are often paid secretly amid suspicions that some police officers may be involved in the kidnappings.

Rizal Yuyitng, the publisher of a Chinese language newspaper in Manila, the Chinese Commercial News, told the BBC he believed the kidnappings to be an attempt to threaten the political and economic stability of the country.

Beheading threat

In a separate development, the Muslim separatist group Abu Sayyaf threatened on Monday to behead two American hostages unless the authorities begin talks and call off a military offensive.

Abu Sabaya (left):
Abu Sabaya (left): Demands rejected by the government
Abu Sayyaf spokesman, Abu Sabaya, told the Radio Mindanao network in the southern Philippines that President Arroyo "would be bringing the cadavers of Martin and Gracia [Burnham]" with her during a planned visit to meet US President George W Bush in Washington next month.

A presidential spokesman said on Monday Mrs Arroyo had rejected the demands.

Christian missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham along with a Peruvian-American, Guillermo Sobero, and 17 Filipinos, were taken hostage from a south-western beach resort on 27 May.

Human remains found in a shallow grave have been confirmed as those of Mr Sobero who the Abu Sayyaf said had been beheaded in June.

Radio interview

A man identified as Martin Burnham also spoke on the radio. He said both he and his wife were weak and tired and had lost lots of weight.

"I am always tied or kicked, I'm always in the centre of the group," he said.

He said he did not think the guerrillas would release either of them.

The kidnappers have also beheaded 12 Filipinos. At least nine Filipinos are still being held along with the Burnhams.

The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for independence for the Muslim minority in the south of this mainly Christian country. But its principle activity appears to be kidnapping for ransom.

See also:

10 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
US bolsters Manila's rebel crackdown
24 Sep 01 | Americas
Bush calls halt to terror funding
05 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Hostages rescued in the Philippines
11 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf
01 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf?
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