Hostage is freed by rebels in Philippines

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The Independent Online

Muslim rebels are likely to release at least a dozen Western hostages today after freeing a Filipina held for nearly four months on a remote Philippine island.

Muslim rebels are likely to release at least a dozen Western hostages today after freeing a Filipina held for nearly four months on a remote Philippine island.

Lucrecia Dablo, an employee at the Sipadan island diving resort, in Malaysia, was one of 21 mostly foreign hostages abducted by Abu Sayyaf rebels on 23 April and taken to Jolo island in the southern Philippines.

Philippine negotiators have focused on gaining the release of the foreign captives, and the freedom for the Filipina was largely unexpected. The release "is a signal that everything should proceed smoothly" with the other hostages, the chief government negotiator, Robert Aventajado, said.

Ms Dablo was not told ahead of time of her release, and was frightened when she was suddenly taken from the rebels' hide-out by armed men, Mr Aventajado said.

Ms Dablo later tearfully described her release after 116 days in captivity as "like a dream". "I did not expect to be the first one to go," she said.

Negotiators had hoped that at least nine Western hostages would also be freed yesterday in a deal which has been funded by Libya. However, "minor hitches" forced a delay until at least today, they said.

Mr Aventajado said that he expected three French television journalists, who were seized when they visited the rebels' camp, would also be released today.

Mr Aventajado and Libyan negotiators flew to Jolo yesterday tofinalise details of the arrangements for the hostages' handover.

The rebels are now holding 28 hostages - six French, three Malaysians, two Germans, two Finns, two South Africans and 13 Filipinos - including the three journalists and a dozen Christian evangelists who visited the rebels' camp to pray for the hostages. (AP)

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