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"Fear and insecurity are never far below the surface here"
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Monday, 15 May, 2000, 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK
Filipino rebels' new demands
hostages, Jolo
The hostages are mentally exhausted
Filipino guerrillas have set new conditions for the start of talks on freeing 21 hostages being held in a jungle camp.
The hostages
Nine Malaysians
Three Germans
Two French
Two South Africans
Two Finns
Two Filipinos
One Lebanese

The rebels said the military must cease all operations in the provinces where they are holding captives and allow the guerrillas to meet the armed forces chief of staff and the national police chief.

The government must also allow the rebel leaders on the island of Basilan to join in the talks on nearby Jolo Island, where the 21 hostages are being held, a spokesman told DXRZ radio.

The rebels want independence for the region

Philippines President Joseph Estrada has meanwhile told the Muslim guerrillas - members of the separatist Abu Sayyaf group - to put their demands in writing.

Government negotiators said they expected talks to resume on Wednesday and were ready for months of tough bargaining.

Sick

Presidential adviser Robert Aventajado said the top priority remained the release of Renate Wallert, a 57-year-old German woman suffering from hypertension.
Hostage Renate Wallert
Renate Wallert has hypertension

The hostages were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf from a diving resort in neighbouring Malaysia three weeks ago and taken by boat to Jolo, an island in the southern Philippines.

The kidnappers have indicated they will be demanding independence for the region and the establishment of Islamic law, both of which have already been ruled out by the government.

President Estrada gave negotiators the green light to proceed with talks on Sunday following a briefing by Mr Aventajado.

Mr Aventajado told the BBC that the Philippine military had withdrawn far enough from the rebel camp where the hostages are being held to allow negotiations to start on Wednesday.

Depressed

French journalists who interviewed the hostages at the weekend said the Westerners were being kept in a hut and the Asians in a shed without walls.

Mrs Wallert, who was lying in a hammock, looked ill and was mumbling incoherently, according to reports.

They're fed up with all this, fed up, really exhausted, mentally exhausted

French journalist Michel Scott

"They were all very depressed," said journalist Florence Compain of the French newspaper Le Figaro.

"The German woman is very bad, very ill... She's been having nightmares. When she wakes up, she starts crying."

International pressure

French television journalist Michel Scott, who interviewed two rebel leaders, warned there had been no indication the hostages would be released soon.

"So far they think that their message has not gone through properly," he said.
map

"Apparently there is absolutely no question of a quick release of any of them, even the German woman."

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Puno has acknowledged the rebels are in a strong negotiating position.

"I guess at this point, the Abu Sayyaf holds all the cards in terms of what they want to talk about and who they want to talk about," he said.

Abu Sayyaf is also holding an estimated eight Filipino hostages on the nearby island of Basilan.

Withdrawal

Meanwhile, President Estrada has cautiously welcomed a peace overture by the larger Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The MILF said on Monday it would pull back from a key highway battleground in the second largest island of Mindanao.

The move follows three weeks of intense fighting which has left hundreds dead.

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See also:

14 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Three journalists missing in Jolo
13 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hostage release hopes dashed
12 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Church call for prayer crusade
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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