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The BBC's John McLean in Manila
"The hostages were located by swift intelligence work"
 real 28k

Orlando Mercado, Phillipines Defence Secretary
"There has been identification of some of the people suspected of involvement in this kidnap gang"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 21:04 GMT 22:04 UK
Philippines kidnappers identified

The gunmen who kidnapped 21 people in Malaysia on Sunday and took them to the Philippines are former members of the Muslim separatist group, Abu Sayyaf.

Philippines' Defence Minister Orlando Mercado said the gang had been involved in several kidnappings in recent years.


Special operations forces
Special operations forces have been brought in
He told the BBC that no ransom demand had been received.

Military officials say the hostages are being held in the Jolo area of the Sulu islands in the southern Philippines.

The islands are close to the eastern Malaysian resort of Sipadan, where the group, which includes European and South African tourists, was first abducted.

Earlier, the Philippines' acting armed forces chief said the hostages were "safe".

General Jose Calimlim said the hostages, including European and South African tourists, were still with their captors, but were in no danger.

"All of them are safe ... They are still with the kidnappers. One of my people has been in contact with them," the general said.

Philippine army
Security has been tightened on Basilan

They were abducted by heavily armed men from Malaysia's Sipadan island off the coast of Sabah on Sunday night.

There were unconfirmed reports that the kidnappers are demanding a ransom of 100 million pesos ($2.4m) for the release of the captives.

An unidentified police source told the Associated Press news agency that two Malaysian hostages would be released soon because they are Muslims.

The hostages include 10 Malaysians, three Germans, two French, two South Africans, two Finns, one Lebanese and a Filipino.

Tight security

Malaysia says it is now tightening security in the coastal region where the hostages were taken.

Police surveillance by air and sea was increased around the state of Sabah, which lies on Borneo island and is closer to southern Philippines than to the Malay peninsula.

Scuba diver in Sipadan
Sipadan attracts mainly professional divers

Police Inspector-General Norian Mai said checks would be made on all foreign boats entering Malaysian waters, particularly those from the Philippines.

"We have tightened the regulations and controls."

BBC correspondent John McLean says there is a theory that the guerrillas might be trying to distract government forces, which began an assault on the Abu Sayyaf's main base on Saturday.

The guerrillas are already holding 27 Filipino hostages, mostly schoolchildren, on Basilan island, 900km (560 miles) south of Manila, where government troops have launched an assault on the Abu Sayyaf camp.

Piracy and kidnapping are common in the area.

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See also:

26 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Dangerous waters
25 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian kidnap 'puzzle'
23 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine army 'to crush' rebels
19 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
"Sword of God" at war
19 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Muslim rebels behead two hostages
23 Feb 99 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine dream of Islamic state
24 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Gunmen seize tourists in Malaysia
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