TALIPAO, Philippines — Two foreign hostages died in a clash early today between the military and Muslim rebels who are holding 21 people in the southern Philippines, a guerrilla leader claimed.
But military officials said they had no knowledge of any hostage fatalities, and the claim could not be immediately verified.
Soldiers and Abu Sayyaf rebels clashed several times Tuesday and early today after about 100 heavily armed guerrillas tried to escape through an encirclement by the military. At least one soldier was killed and six injured, officials said.
Commander Robot, an Abu Sayyaf leader, claimed in a telephone interview with a local radio network that one hostage had been shot in the clash and that another died of a heart attack.
He apologized to the hostages' families and said it was not the rebels' doing.
The 21 hostages, including 10 foreign tourists, were kidnapped April 23 from a Malaysian diving resort and brought to a hut in Talipao on the island of Jolo.
The hostages include tourists from Germany, France, South Africa, Finland and Lebanon as well as resort workers from the Philippines and Malaysia.
Nur Misuari, the government's negotiator, said the rebels have refused to begin formal talks unless the troops are moved from the area. But Misuari said he was told by the military that the troop presence would remain "as is."
The Abu Sayyaf is the smaller of two groups fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines. Other Abu Sayyaf rebels, who are holding 27 people hostage on neighboring Basilan island, said two weeks ago that they beheaded two captives. The military has launched an assault on their stronghold but has so far failed to find the hostages.