MANILA — Army units launched a major operation in the southern Philippines on Monday to rescue 10 Roman Catholic nuns and an American missionary kidnaped over the weekend. President Corazon Aquino pledged not to put the captives' lives in danger.
The operation concentrated on the mountains of Mindanao island's Lanao del Sur province, 510 miles southeast of Manila, as troops tried to track Muslim insurgents suspected of having abducted the Carmelite nuns and Protestant missionary Brian Lawrence. Authorities said that no ransom note or other message has been received.
"For us, the paramount consideration is the safety of the hostages," Aquino said in a prepared statement. "We will not try to make a point at the risk of their lives."
Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile said that he will contact two influential Muslim leaders who helped gain the release last month of a French priest abducted in the same area.
On Saturday, heavily armed men dragged Lawrence, 30, of Madison, Wis., from his apartment in downtown Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur. The day before, 10 cloistered Filipino nuns were taken from their convent two miles from Marawi.
Witnesses said that 40 heavily-armed men herded the nuns aboard two motorboats on Lake Marawi and took them to Ramain, six miles southeast of the provincial capital.
The army erected roadblocks on major highways to prevent the kidnapers' escape to nearby provinces, a military spokesman said.
Brig. Gen. Pedro Balbanero, deputy chief of armed forces southern command, said that the nuns' kidnapers were believed to be from a faction of the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front. He added that it was less clear who abducted Lawrence.
Military and government officials, assisted by Muslim leaders, have been trying to contact leaders of an armed Muslim group known as "Barracudas," suspected of involvement in the kidnaping of Lawrence.