Philippine rebels 'raped women hostages'

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The Independent Online

A plane carrying four former hostages freed by Muslim rebels in the Philippines arrived in Tripoli yesterday, one claiming that their captors raped some of the women hostages.

A plane carrying four former hostages freed by Muslim rebels in the Philippines arrived in Tripoli yesterday, one claiming that their captors raped some of the women hostages.

Risto Vahanen, a Finn who was among 21 captives held for 140 days in the Philippine jungle, told Finnish MTV3 in an interview broadcast yesterday that the other hostages were powerless to help the women.

"A few women there were treated in an inappropriate manner," Vahanen said. He answered "yes" when asked if they had been raped.

"[The women] were of the opinion that it had to be made public, without names, so that the world would know what Robot had done," Vahanen said, referring to the rebel leader Ghalib "Robot" Andang.

The former hostages' arrival in Tripoli came amid fears that Libyan pay-offs would encourage hostage-taking. Libya reportedly paid £1m each to secure the freedom of the four, including Vahanen who flew out of the Philippines yesterday after being held for months by the Abu Sayyef, the rebel group fighting for an independent Muslim state in the south.

On Sunday, just a day after the hostages were released, three Malaysian men were abducted near where Abu Sayyaf rebels kidnapped 21 people, including the four Europeans, on 23 April. One Filipino from the group captured in April is still in captivity as well as two French television journalists. The guerrillas are also holding 12 Filipino Christian evangelists while another faction continues to hold the American Jeffrey Schilling.

Libyan officials have denied paying ransom and claimed they secured the rebels' confidence by funding development projects in the poorer south. But hostages have reported sudden signs of wealth in the rebels' camp just before their release.

Negotiations on the release of the remaining hostages have been suspended because of fighting among the rebels, allegedly over the ransom.

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