MANILA, Philippines – Philippine soldiers rescued 13 hostages – including three children – early today after a clash with a Muslim separatist group that has beheaded 10 other captives in the past few days, officials said.
The 13 were among a group of 36 people seized Thursday in a raid by the group Abu Sayyaf on a village on the southern island of Basilan. The Abu Sayyaf is also holding a separate group of 20 hostages, including three Americans, on another part of Basilan, a guerrilla stronghold nearly 600 miles south of the capital of Manila.
Of the group seized Thursday from the southern village of Balobo, 10 were found beheaded, said army spokesman Maj. Alberto Gepilano.
Beheading has become a hallmark of the Abu Sayyaf, who claim they are fighting for an independent Muslim state to be carved out of the southern Philippines – a mostly Muslim region of this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The Philippine government calls Abu Sayyaf bandits who are out to profit from kidnapping.
Most, or all, of those kidnapped and beheaded were Christian.
It remained unclear Sunday whether any of the original 36 were still being held; at least 34 had been accounted for.
Gepilano said the rescued hostages were abandoned by the Abu Sayyaf early Sunday when the army stormed a temporary guerrilla camp in Basilan’s mountainous Kapayawan region. He said there were no immediate reports of casualties in the fighting.
Social workers said dozens of families, mostly victims’ relatives, have fled their homes in Balobo in fear of more attacks.
Deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Calimlim said 11 hostages were freed Friday morning to relay the Abu Sayyaf’s demand that the army end its campaign to eradicate the group.
“That is the only demand of the Abu Sayyaf,” Calimlim said.
The Abu Sayyaf, thought to number 1,100 fighters, carried out an attack on a southwestern beach resort on May 27, seizing 20 hostages, including three Americans.
The group grabbed another approximately 20 people from a hospital and a plantation in Lamitan early in June. The rebels earlier killed four Filipino captives from the resort and Lamitan. Some hostages escaped or were released since then.
The group is still holding a missionary couple, Martin and Gracia Burnham, from Wichita, Kan., but claims to have beheaded the third American, Guillermo Sobero, from Corona, Calif. Sobero’s body has not been found, however.
The Abu Sayyaf embarrassed the Philippines in a similar hostage crisis last year when it seized 21 hostages, including foreigners, from a Malaysian resort, and reportedly collected millions of dollars in ransom payments.
Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.