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Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK
Libya hands over Jolo hostages
The hostages with Colonel Gaddafi's son (third from left) and Libyan negotiator (left)
The hostages with Colonel Gaddafi's son (third from left) and Libyan negotiator (left)
Four Europeans freed after being held for 20 weeks by Muslim rebels in the Philippines have been handed over by Libya to representatives of their governments.

The four were handed over at a ceremony broadcast live by Libyan TV at an historic Ottoman fortress in the centre of the capital, Tripoli.

Libyan mediation had secured the release of German Marc Wallert, Frenchman Stephane Loisy and Finns Seppo Juhani Franti and Risto Mirco Vahanen at the weekend.

Now that the sun has risen again, we are facing a new life that we think will be very rewarding

Risto Vahanen
The ceremony was attended by Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi's son, Sayf al-Islam, chairman of the Gaddafi International Charity Foundation, which paid ransoms for the men.

The handover had been scheduled to take place at Bab al-Azizia barracks - the scene of the 1986 bombing by US aircraft in which Colonel Gaddafi's own adopted daughter was among the dead.

Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi
Sayf al-Islam: boost for Libya's prestige
No reason was given for the change, but correspondents say diplomats viewed the new venue as a way of minimising embarrassment for European officials and their US allies.

When he was asked whether Libya's prestige had been boosted by its role in the hostage saga, Colonel Gaddafi's son said: "Of course."

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja led the thanks offered to the Libyan authorities for helping free the hostages, followed by German and French representatives.

Mr Vahanen said the group had adopted Libyan negotiator Rajab Azzarouq, who was also present, as their "new father".

Drama continues

The four were among 21 people kidnapped from the Malaysian resort of Sipadan by rebels of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group on 23 April.

They were taken to Jolo island in the southern Philippines where they were held in a jungle camp.

German former hostage Marc Wallert in Tripoli
Marc Wallert at Tuesday's ceremony
The fate of two other French hostages, journalists who were captured as they covered the story, remains uncertain.

However, Mr Gaddafi said he had instructed Libyan negotiators to "secure the release of the French hostages as soon as possible".

Earlier the Libyan leadership had said that the journalists' employers would have to pay for their release.

One Filipino remains in captivity from the original Sipadan group.

Around 15 other Filipinos are also being held captive by the rebels.

After the four Europeans were released, Abu Sayyaf rebels abducted three more people from another Malaysian resort.

US concern

Mr Gaddafi said Libya was "not concerned" about an American held hostage by a separate Abu Sayyaf faction who has asked for Libyan help in securing his release.

In a taped message to a local radio station the hostage, Jeffrey Schilling, said although he was kept in "either chains or handcuffs", he was not mistreated.

He appealed to the US and Philippine governments to negotiate for his safe release and "see the Libyan government to act as negotiator to end my captivity as soon as possible".

"We do not have any information and we are not concerned about that, because we are concerned with the Europeans," Mr Gaddafi said.

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"The freed hostages had praise for Lybia"
Abdurrahmann Mohamed Shalghem, Libyan Minister
"Our image is excellent"
See also:

10 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
07 Sep 00 | In Depth
07 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
01 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
30 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
02 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
27 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
02 May 00 | In Depth
09 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
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