Libya bids $12m to free hostages in Philippines

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The Independent Online

The four-month ordeal of 12 foreign hostages held in the Philippines could soon be over after Libya was reported yesterday to have agreed to pay $1m (£625,000) per hostage to secure their freedom.

The four-month ordeal of 12 foreign hostages held in the Philippines could soon be over after Libya was reported yesterday to have agreed to pay $1m (£625,000) per hostage to secure their freedom.

The hostages' release, which had been expected last weekend, was suddenly put on hold by their Islamic fundamentalist captors, apparently after Libya began haggling to lower the ransom to $700,000 per captive. But sources close to the negotiations told Reuters news agency yesterday that Libya would pay a total of $12m to the Abu Sayyaf rebels to free the foreign hostages.

The money is to be channelled via the "charity" of Seif, son of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and is reportedly to be used to fund development projects in the impoverished southern Philippines.

The rebels have refused to release all the hostages together, saying they fear a military offensive.

The hostages have been allowed to trickle out of the rebels' jungle hideout. Nine Malaysians, an ailing German woman and a Filipina hostage have been released but the rebels still hold a Filipino resort worker and nine tourists - three French nationals, two South Africans, two Germans and two Finns. They also hold three members of a French television crew who were abducted last month while covering the hostage saga.

The Libyan envoy Rajab Azzarouq, who is brokering the negotiations, told reporters last weekend the government side might agree to a batch-by-batch release if there was a firm timetable for the hostages' freedom to prevent negotiations from dragging on indefinitely.

The rebels seized theirhostages from a Malaysian diving resort on 23 April and took them to Jolo island, 600 miles south of Manila. After initially demanding the release of three Islamic militants held in US jails, the Abu Sayyef rebels sought a ransom payment. They initially demanded £2m but the payment was increased as the months dragged on - and after governments reportedly gave in by paying for the release of their nationals. "The bottom line here is money," one of the sources close to the negotiations said yesterday.

The Philippine military says the rebels have collected $5.5m in ransom money for those already freed and have usedmuch of it to buy guns.

Libya has mounted a major initiative to secure the release of the hostages.

Diplomats have said Tripoli wants to improve its international image after years of isolation following the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

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