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BBC's John McLean
"Abu Sayyaf... has a reuputation for being bloodthirsty"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Muslim rebels behead two hostages
Burning town
Abu Sayyaf was blamed for the Ipil massacre
Muslim separatist rebels in southern Philippines say they have beheaded two of 29 hostages being held captive on Wednesday, prompting the army to prepare for a possible attack.



We chopped off their heads using a sword

Rebel spokesman
A spokesman for the fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf group said the beheadings were "birthday gifts" for President Joseph Estrada, who was 63 on Wednesday.

Abu Ahmad Salayuddin said the group had recorded the executions, in which the men - teachers who were former soldiers - were blindfolded and made to sit with their head bowed.



[The rebels] have signed their own death warrant

Military spokesman Colonel Rafael Romero
"We chopped off their heads using a sword. There was only one chop," he said on local radio in Zamboanga city, Basilan island.

He added more executions could follow in the next two days if their demands were not met.

A government spokesman said they had "independent confirmation" of the beheadings and would now consider "other options" aside from communication.

The army has warned of reprisals. "They have drawn the first blood and they have signed their death warrant," military spokesman Colonel Rafael Romero said, adding 1,000 troops were on the island.

Rebel demands

The small rebel group are demanding independence for the Muslim minority living in the southern part of this predominantly Catholic country.


President Estrada
President Estrada appealed to the rebels

The rebels, who have also threatened to kill American nationals, also want the release of three Islamic militants held in the US, one of whom is Ramzi Youssef, convicted of masterminding the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Centre.

Mr Estrada had earlier appealed to the group not to kill any hostages. He said he was willing to talk to them but said their demands were "unreasonable".

The US Embassy, which had also rejected the demands, had advised Americans earlier this week to avoid travelling to Basilan, 900km (600 miles) south of Manila.

Schoolchildren

The group's 29 hostages, abducted on 20 March, are mostly schoolchildren as well as teachers and a Catholic priest.


Rebel militant Muslims
Aby Sayaff is one of a few Muslim militant organisatons in the Philippines
Mr Salayuddin said the group would not harm the children or the women, who would be kept as "housemaids."

"We do not kill women. We will just enslave them," he said.

Among the demands of the group is for Muslim female teachers and students to wear clothing that completely covers their bodies.

Abu Sayyaf, which has attacked Christian groups attempts to recruit religious converts, has been blamed for a series of kidnappings and bomb attacks on Christian targets since the early 1990s.

The group was blamed for the raid on the Christian town of Ipil in 1995, in which more than 50 people were gunned down.

Abu Sayyaf is one of several Muslim militant groups in the Philippines.

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See also:

 | Asia-Pacific
"Sword of God" at war
21 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines grenade attack
20 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines peace talks off
23 Feb 99 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine dream of Islamic state
08 Feb 99 | Asia-Pacific
Muslim rebels insist on independence
08 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines reform package shelved
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