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Guerrillas Abduct 58 in Philippines

March 20, 2000

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ Muslim extremist guerrillas attacked an army outpost early Monday in the southern Philippines and abducted 58 people, including a priest and dozens of students, the military said.

About 60 members of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group staged the attack on the outpost in the village of Tumahubong in southern Basilan province, said Col. Hilario Atendido, spokesman of the military’s Southern Command.

As the rebels fled pursuing troops, some swooped down on a Catholic high school and seized the parish priest, the Rev. Roel Gallardo, school principal Reynaldo Rubio, six teachers and 39 students, the military said.

Other rebels seized seven elementary and four high school teachers from the Sinangkapan National High School in nearby Tuburan town, Atendido said. One of the teachers was later rescued by soldiers.

The rebels apparently seized the students and teachers to use them as ``human shields″ against pursuing soldiers, Atendido said.

They later released 20 students unharmed, he said.

The rebels refused to negotiate with the police and the military, but asked for a doctor and wanted to talk with reporters, said Alan Cajucom, head of the local Red Cross chapter.

Cajucom said the rebels, who called from a cellular telephone, did not state any immediate demands.

The Abu Sayyaf group was also suspected in the abduction last week of two elementary school teachers in a village in Zamboanga City. The teachers are still being held.

The attack in Basilan, 550 miles south of Manila, came as troops pursued guerrillas of another Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, who attacked military outposts in four towns in Lanao del Norte province on the southern island of Mindanao.

Clashes that followed those attacks left 116 guerrillas and 11 soldiers dead. Seven civilians also were killed, officials said.

Military bombers and helicopter gunships continued to bombard rebel positions in the hinterlands of three towns Monday.

The Office of Civil Defense said the fighting has forced more than 7,500 people to flee their villages in four Lanao del Norte towns. The evacuees were given shelter in school buildings, it said.

The Abu Sayyaf, the smaller of two Muslim rebel groups, has been blamed for numerous attacks against Christians, including foreign missionaries, in the southern Philippines.

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