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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May, 2005, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Philippine bishop in hostage drama
Bishop Cabajar checks the hostages - 25/5/05
The get-away truck was trailed by police and journalists
A Roman Catholic bishop found himself answering an unusual call on Wednesday when he agreed to drive the get-away truck for a group of hostage takers.

Bishop Emmanuel Cabajar sat in the front with three gunmen while about a dozen hostages were in the back.

The bishop had agreed to drive them away from local police if the hostages were later released unharmed.

The gunmen freed the hostages south of Pagadian on southern Mindanao island, then abandoned the bishop nearby.

The drama began on Tuesday with what police believed was an attempted robbery of a bus travelling to the southern city of Zamboanga.

The gunmen, who got on at Plaridel, are thought to have panicked when spotted by police at a checkpoint and taken passengers hostage.

A stand-off with police ensued, and the gunmen, armed with grenades, a machine gun and pistols, agreed to release some of the hostages.

Crash

Police then agreed that they could travel somewhere unhindered, where they would leave the passengers unharmed.

But the bus' driver is reported to have deliberately crashed the bus into a ditch and fled.

The rebels and their hostages then transferred to a pick-up truck and Bishop Cabajar, who had become involved in the negotiations, said he would drive.

Their vehicle was trailed by police and journalists, before the gunmen ordered the hostages to jump out of the truck along a road south of Pagadian. They were then taken to hospitals.

The bishop was abandoned in the remote town of Lakewood, west of Pagadian. He went on to hold a thanksgiving mass.

One of the gunmen told local radio that they belonged to the New People's Army communist rebel group, but a local rebel spokesman, Ismael Marte, denied the men were guerrillas.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: The Philippines
21 Dec 03 |  Country profiles
Guide to the Philippines conflict
10 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Manila signs ceasefire with MILF
18 Jul 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Mindanao's Muslim refugees
03 Jun 03 |  Asia-Pacific


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