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THREE dead Filipinos found as troops search for U.S. hostage

Updated:

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ The Philippines' president promised a ``long and bloody war'' against Muslim insurgents who claim to have beheaded an American hostage _ an assertion questioned by the Filipino military.

As President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made her warning Wednesday, the military said it found three Filipino bodies, including a Muslim cleric, in territory of the Abu Sayyaf.

``We will meet fire with fire, and more,'' Arroyo said during a nationally televised news conference. ``No ransom. No deal. No cease-fire. No suspension of the military operation.

``Abu Sayyaf is a scourge to our race. They are a curse to their religion. We will not stop the campaign until we have cleansed Basilan and Sulu of the Abu Sayyaf forces,'' she said, referring to the southern islands where the rebels are based.

Abu Sabaya, an Abu Sayyaf leader, said in a radio interview at dawn Tuesday that he had killed Guillermo Sobero, 40, as a gift to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of independence.

Yellow ribbons adorned the trees in Sobero's neighborhood in Corona, Calif., east of Los Angeles. But only the oldest of Sobero's four children, a 13-year-old daughter, knows her father was kidnapped, the family said.

``They think he's on vacation,'' said Neuza Chiong, a cousin of Sobero's wife, Fanny. ``I'm not sure when we'll tell them.''

The group also holds two other Americans _ Christian missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan. _ and about 25 Filipinos captured in three raids during the last 2 1/2 weeks.

The small, extremist group claims to be fighting for a Muslim homeland in the mostly Roman Catholic Philippines; the government calls it a bunch of bandits.

Several hundred military reinforcements joined thousands of troops hunting the rebels on Basilan, and more were expected.

The Americans were seized May 27 when rebels raided the Dos Palmas resort in the southwestern Philippines and took 20 hostages. Nine captives later escaped, and two resort staffers were found hacked to death.

In subsequent attacks, the Abu Sayyaf took more hostages in a hospital and a plantation on Basilan.

The group kidnapped foreign tourists from a Malaysian resort last year; they were subsequently released, reportedly for millions of dollars in ransom.

Arroyo said a ``long and bloody war'' might be needed to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf. She also said Wednesday she will create a ``superbody'' to coordinate the government's drive against kidnap-for-ransom syndicates.

Sabaya claimed Tuesday that the government was trying to trick him when it agreed to his demand for a Malaysian negotiator who helped work out the deal for the release of the hostages taken last year.

With Sabaya refusing to negotiate and threatening to kill more hostages, Vice President Teofista Guingona backtracked on the concession Wednesday. And Arroyo, meeting with Malaysian officials this week, did not ask for help, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Wednesday. The rebels had demanded a Malaysian negotiator.

``No more foreign participation,'' Guingona said. ``It's already moot and academic.''

By Wednesday, officials were expressing optimism that Sabaya might have been lying. But the discovery of three other bodies _ one a beheaded cleric reportedly on a private negotiation effort _ emphasized the serious nature of the group that killed two Filipino teachers last year as a ``birthday present'' to Arroyo's predecessor.

Joel Maturan, mayor of the central Basilan town of Tipo Tipo, said the cleric and three other negotiators tried to approach the rebels. Three fled when Sabaya grew angry, Maturan said.

Maturan told ABS-CBN television that Sabaya ordered his men to tie up the cleric in the form of a cross.

They ``immediately chopped off his head,'' Maturan said. ``Sabaya ordered the beheading ... on suspicion that he was spying for the military.''

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said those negotiators were not working for the government.

Sobero's brother, Alberto, said on CBS-TV's ``The Early Show'' that the FBI had informed him the likelihood of foul play ``is very high.'' But he said the family is trying to remain optimistic.

``Even though the hopes are slim, we're still clinging to that,'' Alberto Sobero said Wednesday. ``How do you tell a 6-year-old his father's head has been cut off?''

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