Phillipines hostages 'have fled'

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The Independent Online

Confusion surrounded the welfare of 21 hostages held by Muslim rebels in the Philippines last night, with reports that two Westerners had escaped and uncertainty over two others who were said to have been accidentally killed.

The report of the escape by two white men came from a local radio station, DZMM, which quoted an unidentified source in Abu Sayyaf, the separatist guerrilla group that has been holding the tourists and resort workers since kidnapping them on the Malaysian island of Sipadan on Easter Day.

Military sources said they could not confirm that any captives had escaped. The provincial governor, Abdusakur Tan, said: "There is no truth to that. I have my men up there."

The Philippines' Defence Minister, Orlando Mercado, said there was no confirmation of an earlier claim by guerrilla leaders that two of the Western hostages had died, one after being hit by a stray bullet and one of a heart attack, during a gun battle between troops and rebels on Wednesday.

Mr Mercado said his information was that all 21 were still alive and in captivity.