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Philippine Hostages May Be Freed

August 14, 2000

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ A key negotiator said Monday that Muslim rebels holding Westerners and Asians in a Philippine jungle will release nine hostages within two days.

A chartered plane from Libya, which has helped in the negotiations, arrived in Manila late Monday to transport the hostages, who were kidnapped in April from a Malaysian diving resort.

Chief government negotiator Robert Aventajado did not say who would be released by the Abu Sayyaf rebels, who had demanded $1 million for each Western hostage.

``There is a breakthrough,″ he said. ``It’s OK now.″

The Libyan plane will take the hostages to Libya, and from there they will travel to their own countries, negotiators said. He said Libya is shouldering all the costs of the release, including an unspecified ransom payment.

Earlier Monday, former Libyan ambassador Abdul Rajab Azzarouq had said ``more hard work″ was still needed to persuade the guerrillas to free their hostages from Jolo island in the southern Philippines.

The rebels are holding six French hostages, three Malaysians, two Germans, two Finns, two South Africans and 14 Filipinos, including a dozen Christian evangelists who came to the rebels’ camp to pray for the hostages.

The Abu Sayyaf, who are fighting for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines, took 21 hostages from Malaysia’s diving resort of Sipadan on April 23 and brought them to Jolo. They later took other hostages, including foreign journalists.

Aventajado said three captive French television journalists might also be freed this week as part of the deal involving Libya.

The rebels have freed six Malaysians and one ailing German woman from among the Sipadan hostages, along with a German journalist, two journalists from the Philippines’ largest television network, ABS-CBN, and three people from previous kidnappings in exchange for an estimated $5.5 million, military officials say.

In Cotabato in the south, the Philippines’ largest Muslim separatist rebel group said Monday it has decided not to resume peace talks with President Joseph Estrada’s administration, accusing him of insincerity.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels were angered by a recent government decision to offer a huge bounty for the arrest of rebel leaders, a rebel spokesman said.

The Moro rebels have been blamed by the military and police for recent bombings and attacks in the southern region of Mindanao that killed more than 50 people.

Estrada suspended peace talks June 30 after the guerrillas refused to accept two conditions: that they abandon their secessionist goal and stop terrorist attacks.

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