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Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Jolo hostage release delayed
Hostage in captivity
The hostages have spent four months in captivity
Muslim rebels abruptly delayed the planned release of nine Western hostages on Wednesday.

The hostages, who have spent nearly four months in the Aby Sayyaf jungle hideout, would not be released until at least Thursday because of "minor hitches", government negotiator Roberto Mananquil said.


We all wish that something will happen soon and safely

Finnish envoy
However, the release still depended on discussions with the rebels on Thursday, an aide said.

A chartered plane from Libya - which had negotiated a deal to release the hostages - had been waiting to pick up the hostages, who were seized from Malaysia's Sipadan diving resort on 23 April.

Malaysia had also put a plane on standby to fly its nationals back to Sabah.

Hostages' jungle camp
The hostages were held in a jungle camp
"This has gone on for so long," Finland's envoy, Kimmo Pulkkinan, told Associated Press news agency.

"We have been told to be prepared that something will happen, and we all wish that something will happen soon and safely."

Earlier, diplomats had expressed optimism over the release. French foreign ministry officials said the crisis had reached "an important stage".

Ambassadors had been invited from the hostages' countries to attend handover ceremonies in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines.

'No $25m ransom'

Libyan officials have played a key mediating role between the separatists and the Philippine Government since the start of the hostage drama.

Rajab Azzarouq
Azzarouq helped negotiate the release
But details of their role in the deal are unclear.

Libya's former ambassador to the Philippines, Rajab Azzarouq, has denied media reports that Libya is paying a $25m ransom to the rebels.

However he said Libya may be willing to finance development projects in the impoverished southern Philippines.

Kidnapped

The nine hostages waiting to be freed come from Finland, South Africa, France and Germany.

Rebels
The rebels have reportedly already received $5.5m
Reports say they are expected to be flown to Libya where they will be met by officials from their home countries.

The releases will leave three Malaysians and two Filipinos from the original group still in captivity.

The Abu Sayyaf is also holding several journalists kidnapped while covering the story and a group of evangelists who arrived in Jolo to pray for the hostages.

Releases

The Abu Sayyaf is the smaller of two groups fighting for an Islamic state in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

Hostages
Many hostages have found it hard to cope
They have already freed seven people from the Sipadan hostages, along with half a dozen from other kidnappings.

Military officials estimate they have collected $5.5m in ransoms.

The island was reportedly flooded with crisp new high-denomination bills shortly after the first releases.

Police sources have said the rebels were demanding up to $1m for each Western and about $350,000 each for Asian captives.

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See also:

07 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Jolo rebels 'paid $5.5m ransom'
02 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Swordsmen of God at war
01 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hostage drama highlights bitter conflict
02 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Jolo rebels 'demand $21m'
02 May 00 | World
Analysis: How hostages cope
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