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The BBC's John Mclean in Manilla
"Officials say they are all alive"
 real 28k

Monday, 2 October, 2000, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Philippines preachers freed
Wilde Almeda
Wilde Almeda: One of 12 kidnapped evangelists
Philippine government troops say they have found 12 of the 17 hostages being held by Muslim rebels on the southern island of Jolo.


I think in one more week we will end this problem

President Joseph Estrada
The Filipino evangelists were snatched in July when they went to the island to pray for other hostages kidnapped by the guerrillas.

The army says its forces have killed 114 Abu Sayyaf rebels during a military offensive to crush the guerrillas and release their captives.

Injured boy
Civilians have fallen victim to the military offensive
It is not known whether the 12 evangelists were rescued by the military or simply managed to escape during fighting.

The fate of the rebels' five remaining hostages - a Filipino, an American and three Malaysians - is also unclear.

Killed

Tens of thousands of local people have been displaced during the military's air and ground assault on Jolo, which is now in its seventeenth day.

Hostages still held
Filipino Roland Ullah, seized Sidapan 23 Apr
American Jeffrey Schilling, seized Jolo 28 Aug
Malaysians Mohamed Noor Sulaiman, Joseph Ongkinoh, Kan Wei Chong - all seized Pandanan 10 Sept
Unconfirmed reports say many civilians have been killed and injured, but independent verification has been impossible because much of Jolo has been shut off to outsiders.

The rescue assault has taken far longer than predicted by the military. They had originally said the campaign would be over in as little as three days.

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

They are believed to have gained $15m in ransom money since kidnapping 21 hostages from the Malaysian resort island of Sidapan in April.

Map
All but one captive from that group, a Filipino diving instructor, have since been freed, most of them in a deal brokered by Libya.

Libya says the deal included several million dollars in development aid, but it denies paying any ransom.

President Joseph Estrada ordered the military assault on Jolo last month after the rebels snatched three more hostages in a second raid on another Malaysian island.

The Malaysian navy said on Monday it had deployed 23 vessels, including warships, and 2,000 personnel off the Sabah coast to guard against further intrusions by Filipino kidnappers.

Naval chief Admiral Abu Bakar Abdul Jamal said seven more warships or boats would be sent soon to patrol off the eastern state.

Amnesty

Meanwhile, the larger of the two Muslim separatist groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has rejected an amnesty offer by President Joseph Estrada.

The amnesty was expected to cover MILF members who had committed crimes in pursuit of political beliefs, but exclude kidnapping, murder and torture.

President Estrada's spokesman said the rejection of the amnesty made it clear the rebels were not serious about peace talks.

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Jolo hostage's new radio appeal
21 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fears for Jolo civilians
19 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Jolo operation: Tactics and equipment
16 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Former hostages sickened by offensive
02 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf hostage-takers?
02 May 00 | World
Analysis: How hostages cope
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