Philippines President gives final warning to kidnappers

EU sends emissary to Manila to express concern for hostages' safety

With the Philippine hostage crisis entering its third week, fresh attempts were made yesterday to break the deadlock.

President Joseph Estrada flew to the south of the country in the hope of reviving negotiations with Muslim rebels holding the 21 hostages, while the European Union resolved to send its most senior diplomat to the Philippines.

The EU's decision to dispatch Javier Solana, taken at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Portugal, reflects Europe's concerns about the hostages' welfare.

The group being held by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas on the southern island of Jolo includes three Germans, two French nationals and two Finns, as well as 10 Malaysians, a Filipino, a Lebanese woman and a South African couple.

With pressure mounting on the Manila government to achieve a peaceful conclusion to the crisis, fears for the safety of the captives remain high. Abu Sayyaf rebels killed 13soldiers yesterday during a clash with troops trying torescue a separate group of Filipino hostages on the nearby island of Basilan. Three rebels died in the fighting, in the coastal town of Lantawan.

Meanwhile, troops surrounding the guerrilla hide-out on Jolo fired mortar shells at the rebels' defence lines, and a spokesman for Mr Estrada said a military operation to rescue the hostages might be launched if negotiations dragged on too long. The President, who had maintained a low profile since the hostages were kidnapped from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan on Easter Day, flew to the city of Zamboanga, 500 miles south of Manila.

"We are determined to save the hostages and not put them in harm's way" he said in a speech to local officials and military personnel.

Mr Estrada visited wounded soldiers at a hospital at the military's southern command headquarters and briefly met the government's hostage negotiator, Nur Misuari.

Afterwards the President, who was wearing dark glasses and a military camouflage uniform, said: "I hope that the kidnappers will realise that keeping the hostages will serve no useful purpose whatsoever."

Warning the kidnappers that they faced armed retaliation, Mr Estrada said: 'This is a direct challenge to our government. If they persist in engaging in terrorist acts, we will give them the full might of our armed forces. Whatever happens, whatever we have to do, we will not allow our country to be dismembered."

Abu Sayyaf, the smaller of two guerrilla organisations seeking an independent Islamic state in parts of the southern Philippines, has demanded the release of three Muslim extremists in jail in the United States, including Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

The EU's decision to send Mr Solana, the head of foreign and security policy, to the Philippines is a clear sign that European countries are losing patience with the Manila government. The EU rarely, ifever, sends envoys to intervene directly in hostage-taking episodes.

The foreign ministers issued a statement condemning the kidnapping of the 21 tourists and resort workers, and said they would "spare no effort to secure their safety and early release".

They said Mr Solana, who will leave for Manila today, would not be a mediator, but would "convey personally to the Philippine government the EU's message concerning the safety of the hostages".

Some 3,000 Muslim fighters from a regional militia began arriving yesterday to join a 2,000-strong military force surrounding the rebels' jungle camp at Talipao on Jolo. A cameraman and journalist who visited the camp at the weekend said the hostages were "haggard but scared". One of them, a German woman, was lying on a makeshift stretcher.

The woman is believed to be suffering from hypertension, and a Filipino doctor who visited the hostages last week warned that she might havea stroke if she remained in captivity.

Mr Estrada's spokesman, Ricardo Puno, said yesterday: "If it appears that the hostages are being treated well. If food and medicines are allowed into the location and there are no reports of abuse or torture, then we will give this every possible opportunity to be resolved in a peaceful manner."

But, he added: "If the situation has been extended too long and clearly a negotiated settlement would not result in anything positive or productive, then I am sure some thought would be given to [a military raid]."

On Basilan, Abu Sayyaf is believed to be still holding eight of 29 Filipinos taken hostage two months ago. At least six of them have been killed. On Saturday troops found the headless corpses of two teachers thought to have been killed just before soldiers attacked the base last week and rescued 15 of the captives.

Six people were killed in two bomb attacks on buses in the southern Philippines at the weekend. The blasts were blamed on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the larger separatist organisation.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Early Years Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Early Years supply teachers neede...

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?