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Philippine Govt. Accepts Negotiator

June 11, 2001

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ Minutes before a deadline by Muslim extremists to execute an American hostage, the Philippine government dropped its objection to bringing in a Malaysian negotiator.

As the noon deadline passed, Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya called in by satellite telephone to a local radio station, but the connection dropped before he could say anything on the fate of the 13 hostages he holds.

It was unclear whether the government’s concession would satisfy him, as he had demanded two Malaysians be brought in to settle the 2-week-old crisis.

``We do not object to Sairin Karno joining the negotiations,″ said presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao. ``If the (Malaysian government) allows him, we will permit him to join. We want to show our sincerity. We appeal on them not to harm the hostages, they have parents and children, just like them.″

As the deadline neared, the Abu Sayyaf attacked a plantation on Basilan island, taking an unknown number of children and a security guard hostage, said Tahira Ishmail, mayor-elect of Lantawan town on the southern island of Basilan.

Officials said the group’s three American hostages may have been dragged along with the attackers.

``I hope they don’t touch the children,″ said Ishmail, who reported the incident occurred near her town and involved both Muslim and Christian children. ``They’re innocent. They don’t know what’s going on.″

Col. Hermogenes Esperon, army brigadier commander on Basilan island, said some children were taken in the raid on the 1,200-acre coconut and coffee plantation along with one of the plantation’s owners and a security guard. They also burned a chapel and a hut, he said.

Esperon said troops were on their way to the area to fight the guerillas.

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