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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 08:52 GMT
Hostage escapes Abu Sayyaf
Indonesian hostage Julkipli with the Philippine military
Julkipli was found by the military after running for three hours
An Indonesian sailor held captive by the militant Abu Sayyaf group in the southern Philippines has managed to escape.

The sailor, 27-year-old Julkipli, said he escaped into the forest on the island of Jolo, the Abu Sayyaf stronghold where he and three other Indonesians have been held since last year.

Government troops were engaged in a gun battle against Abu Sayyaf units in the area late on Thursday night, allowing Julkipli to give his captors the slip, military spokesman Lieutenant General Narciso Abaya said.

The fate of Julkipli's fellow crew members is unknown, but he said the rebels had told him one of his colleagues had died.

The four Indonesians were kidnapped in June 2002 from the Singapore-owned tugboat they were working on, near Basilan island.

Julkipli was found on Thursday night by a Philippine Government marine unit.

"Julkipli escaped at about seven o'clock last night and ran for three hours until he hit the highway," said Marine battalion chief Colonel Marine Allaga.

Julkipli said he was "very happy" to be free, and that when he made telephone contact with his wife, whom he married just before he was kidnapped, she "just cried and cried".

"We are happy to hear of his release and we pray that the others are also safe," said Andang Pramana at the Indonesian embassy in Manila.

Militant group

The Abu Sayyaf has been labelled a terrorist organisation by both Manila and Washington, and is said to have links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

It is the most violent of the four main rebel groups fighting for an Islamic homeland in the southern Philippines, and is known for its method of kidnapping foreigners for ransom.

Troops have stepped up operations against the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo in recent weeks, after President Gloria Arroyo issued a 90-day deadline in February for the military to crush the group.

Meanwhile the Philippine Government has resumed peace talks with another separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The talks are aimed at ending a decades-long MILF rebellion in the southern Philippines, which has escalated in recent weeks.

MILF representatives and government negotiators gathered in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur on Thursday for a two-day meeting on resurrecting the peace deal.

"The fighting in some areas has disrupted somehow the negotiations. So we have to put them back on track again," Jesus Dureza, who is leading the government peace panel, told reporters before the talks began.

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