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"There is no end in sight"
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Saturday, 13 May, 2000, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Hostages' battle for survival
hostages in their camp
The hostages are forced to walk from one location to another
By south-east Asia correspondent Simon Ingram

Rarely can a set of hostages have been so ill-prepared for their ordeal.

Until their kidnapping on 23 April, the 21 people now being held captive by Muslim guerrillas on the remote Philippines island of Jolo were relaxing at the end of a day of scuba-diving and snorkelling.

The tourists among them had come from as far away as Europe, South Africa and Lebanon to enjoy what was meant to be the holiday of a lifetime.

The only reminder the captives now have of those days are the tee-shirts and shorts some of them are still wearing - or were, at least, until fresh clothes were supplied to them last week.

Mortar fire

Idyllic days on the beach, and bathing in the spectacular crystal waters of the Celebes Sea have been replaced by a grim battle for survival in the forest, an ever-present sense of fear, and deep uncertainty about when their ordeal will end.

hostage's letter
Negotiator Nur Misuari displays a letter from one of the hostages
The jungle that cloaks the mountain slopes of Jolo is dense and lush.

The Abu Sayyaf guerrillas know the terrain well, and move their hostages regularly in order to evade attempts by the military to trap them.

In a letter dated 11 May, the young Lebanese hostage, Marie Michele Moarbes, said the group had changed camps three times.

"Every time they move us at night by foot in the jungle," she wrote to her father.

Ms Moarbes is one who seems to have coped well with the strain of her predicament.

In the most recent video pictures of the hostages' encampment, she was seen nursing the ailing German hostage, Renate Wallert, and begging the kidnappers to let the sick woman go free.

Other hostages were seen shaking and plainly terrified as mortars fired by government troops exploded in the undergrowth a short distance away.

Shock of capture

Among the welter of emotions felt and expressed by the hostages, anger has been in greater evidence than self-pity.

Nurse Nelsa Amin delivered medicine to the captives
This was especially true in the early stages, when the shock of capture was still fresh, and the physical conditions for the captives - initially, a small hut reeking with urine - were at their most difficult.

Mrs Wallert's husband, Werner, is seen in the same video, furiously demanding that military attempts to free the group be abandoned, and for serious negotiations to be undertaken instead.

Elsewhere, the Frenchman Stephane Loisy raises his middle finger in a silent gesture of defiance to the camera.

Mr Loisy is suffering from a urinary infection, but has made it clear that he does not want to be freed unless his girlfriend, Sonya Wendling, goes with him.

The presence of loved ones must be a source of strength to some of the hostages.

Werner and Renate Wallert are accompanied by their 25-year-old son, Marc.


The two South Africans are a married couple, Carel and Monique Strydom.

It emerged on Friday that Ms Strydom is two months pregnant.

Despite the lack of hard information about the physical and mental condition of the hostages, there are indications that their situation has improved in recent days.

After a fortnight or so surviving on rice and rainwater, some additional supplies did reach them last week.

Reports say tinned sardines have been added to their meagre diet.

The lack of creature comforts is making the hostages situation even harder to bear.

Their first letters included pleas for canvas sheeting to keep out the rain, a pair of spectacles, and even - in one case - a McDonalds' hamburger.

Marie Moarbes' 11 May letter said that, at that stage, the medicine and other provisions sent by the hostages' governments had still not reached them.

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See also:

12 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Church call for prayer crusade
02 May 00 | World
Analysis: How hostages cope
13 May 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
'Board and lodging' in the jungle
02 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Swordsmen of God at war
09 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Inside the Jolo hostage camp
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