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Rebels Free Hostages in Philippines

Insurgency: Muslim separatists exchange dozens of captives for safe passage to a neighboring province.

November 28, 2001|From Associated Press

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — Muslim rebels released dozens of hostages todayin exchange for safe passage through Philippine military forces that have besieged them for more than 24 hours.

They had released 21 hostages earlier. Then, after enduring a series of assaults by warplanes, helicopter gunships and infantry and wading through all-night negotiations, about 250 heavily armed rebels loyal to renegade Muslim regional Gov. Nur Misuari began boarding trucks that were to take them to safety.

The rebels, who belong to the Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF, left behind the hostages, estimated earlier at 40 to 60 people. Government negotiators took custody of the last of the captives at about 1:30 p.m. today.

The MNLF is not linked to another rebel group, the Abu Sayyaf, which holds two Americans and allegedly has ties to Osama bin Laden.

Government negotiator Abraham Iribani said the rebels would be allowed to leave the southern city of Zamboanga and go to neighboring Zamboanga del Sur province.

Under the agreement, the military also freed about 10 rebels captured in fighting Tuesday.

The rebels seized the hostages from communities close to the Cabatangan regional government compound, where the rebels were holed up in a heavily fortified base.

About 80 guerrillas guarded the hostages while a unit battled troops nearby at the Cabatangan compound, which was pounded by aircraft and helicopter gunships.

The fighting left 25 guerrillas, one soldier and one civilian dead, said military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan.

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