Philippine Rebel Bids ‘Impossible’
ISABELA, Philippines (AP) _ It is impossible to meet the demands of Philippine rebels who want to trade hostages for Arab terrorists jailed in the United States, Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said Saturday.
``What kind of a demand is this?″ Mercado asked. ``We can’t even consider them.″ He said negotiators should continue trying to convince the Muslim extremists to free the 29 people they were holding at a jungle base in Basilan, about 545 miles south of Manila.
In a letter to President Joseph Estrada, the Abu Sayyaf group listed Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, and Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, imprisoned for conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks, among those they wanted freed.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the rebel demand was ``out of this world″ and urged the government to reject it outright.
The rebels seized more than 50 people from two schools in Basilan province after attacking an army outpost on March 20. They were still holding 31 last week. But they freed two children Friday after Robin Padilla, a popular movie actor helping negotiate the hostages’ release, visited their stronghold.
Padilla met relatives of the remaining hostages Saturday.
``I’m sorry, I was not able to free all,″ Padilla told the relatives waiting at a Catholic center in Basilan’s capital, Isabela.
Abu Sayyaf is the smaller but more radical of two Muslim groups fighting for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. The group has been blamed for numerous attacks on Christians, including the abduction of foreign missionaries.
Elsewhere Saturday, officials raised a Philippine flag in a major Muslim separatist camp captured after days of fighting.
Marine Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Teodosio said Camp Bilal, in Munai town in southern Lanao del Norte province, fell Friday afternoon. Up to 500 rebels fled, he said.
The battle for the camp, which began on April 8, left three soldiers dead and 18 marines wounded. An undetermined number of guerrillas were killed, the military said.
The camp belonged to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the larger rebel group.