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The BBC's John McLean reports from Manila
"Hostages say conditions are poor and deteriorating"
 real 28k

Monday, 1 May, 2000, 06:46 GMT 07:46 UK
Doctor to visit Philippines hostages
Government militiamen guard approaches to the Abu Sayyaf camp on Jolo
Government militiamen at the Abu Sayyaf camp on Jolo island
Officials in the Philippines say a government doctor is to visit a group of foreign tourists being held hostage by a Muslim extremist group, Abu Sayyaf, in the south of the country.

The doctor is expected to supply the hostages with food, medicines and other supplies brought by French, German and Finnish diplomats to the south Philippines on Monday.

The hostages - seized on the eastern Malaysian island of Sipadan last Sunday - include 10 Malaysians, three Germans, two French, two South Africans, two Finns, one Lebanese and a Filipino.

German hostage Werner Gunter Kort told a local journalist that conditions were poor and detoriating, but that the group was being treated, in his words, "correctly".

Diplomatic mission

One of the South Africa hostages is reported to have collapsed.

The diplomats' packages include syringes for one of the Finns, who is believed to be suffering from a bleeding ulcer.

The boxes were received by a Philippines government envoy who has been in contact with the kidnappers.

Diplomatic sources stressed that the diplomats were not on a mission to contact the hostage-takers, following warnings from the Philippine military not to interfere in the case.

Meanwhile, the Philippines army is continuing to search a tunnel system in an Abu Sayyaf base on the island of Basilan to locate more than 20 other hostages - most of them children - who were seized six weeks ago.

A general in charge of the operation said his men were advancing cautiously, but had so far found only abandoned guns, children's shoes and sacks of rice in the concrete tunnels.

Autonomous region

The rebels' demands include the creation of an autonomous Muslim region in the Philippines, which they say was agreed in 1976.

A local journalist, Arlyn de la Cruz, who was allowed see the foreign hostages said they had been fed only rice since their seizure, they had few clothes and no access to medicine or clean water.

Ms de la Cruz wants to return with food
Ms de la Cruz wants to return with food

Ms de la Cruz said the hostages were worried about possible rescue attempts.

"They are hoping there won't be any military operation because they will be removed to another place," she said.

"The hostages want to be freed as soon as possible."

Some military officials have said the abductions from Malaysia could have been a diversionary tactic by the rebels to try to get troops to stop their assault on the guerrilla base at nearby Basilan island - tactics which so far have failed.

The foreign hostages were seized a day after the assault on Basilan began.

Sipadan lies in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island, and is closer to the southern Philippines than to the Malay peninsula.

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See also:

01 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hostage drama highlights bitter conflict
27 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hostages 'safe' in Philippines
26 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines kidnappers identified
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
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