Libyans threaten to abandon talks with kidnappers

Philippines: Negotiators say they will pull out of talks with Islamic guerrillas over the fate of their Western hostages if there is no progress today
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The Independent Online

The fate of a dozen Western tourists held hostage for four months on a remote Philippine island hangs in the balance after Libyan diplomats brokering a deal for their release threatened to pull out later today.

The fate of a dozen Western tourists held hostage for four months on a remote Philippine island hangs in the balance after Libyan diplomats brokering a deal for their release threatened to pull out later today.

The Gaddafi International Association for Charitable Organisations, run by the son of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, said it would withdraw its negotiators by the end of today if there were no positive signs from the Islamic guerrillas holding the hostages on the jungle island of Jolo. "All the ingredients are there for a solution," said the leader of the Libyan group, Rajab Azzarouq. "It's up to them. We want them to get their act together."

Three Malaysian hostages were released over the weekend by Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic group which is fighting for an independent state in the southern Philippines. But six French hostages, along with two Germans, two Finns, two South Africans and 12 Filipinos, remain in captivity, despite the kidnappers' promise that they would release them on Saturday.

Unknown sums of money are believed to have been offered by the Libyans in return for the tourists, half of whom were snatched in April from Sipadan Island, the celebrated Malaysian diving resort.

Press reports speak of £16.7m; in return, the hostages' home governments, including France, are said to have promised to help Libya rehabilitate itself in the international community, although this is vigorously denied.

There are also suggestions that the cash paid to the separatist rebels by the Gaddafi charity would be reimbursed quietly by Western government, which is also denied by French officials.

Some £3.3m is believed to have been paid last month for the release of six Malaysians and a German woman.

Publicly, Abu Sayyaf says it wants to string out the releases, fearing an attack by the Philippine military if it releases the captives at a stroke. "The Philippine military movement there and the demand of Philippine congress members asking for a military action in the south of the Philippines prevented a release," the Libyan negotiators said in a statement released in Tripoli.

In a letter delivered on Saturday to a joint Filipino and Libyan team which travelled in vain into the Jolo jungle to take custody of the hostages, Abu Sayyaf said: "The [Philippine army] is preparing to launch a military attack on our people ... Further negotiations will take place [when] we are assured that the Philippine government will stop any military attacks."

But according to the Filipino negotiators, the prospect of such a huge pay-off is opening up rifts among the guerrillas themselves. "They entered voluntarily and they can withdraw at any time," Robert Aventajado said, of the threatened Libyan withdrawal. "Their man on the ground, Dr Rajab Azzarouq, knows exactly the situation in relation to the negotiations."

Finnish diplomats, who have spent months working for the release of their countrymen, wept when news of the delay came through.

Germany said yesterday it was recalling a senior official from Tripoli after the expected release fell through.

In South Africa, Rozel Aggenbag, sister of the South African hostage Monique Strydom, said: "The whole family is in a state. We have been holding out and we don't know what's happening any more."

The three Malaysians released said their fellow captives were in reasonable physical health, after surviving for so long on fish and rice, but very low spirited.

The 12 Filipinos still in captivity are Christian evangelists who journeyed into the jungle to pray for the hostages. Among the Westerners are three members of a French television crew

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