PHILLIPINE soldiers rescue 13 hostages after Muslim extremist spree of beheadings

Sunday, August 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Philippine soldiers rescued 13 hostages early Sunday from a Muslim separatist group that has beheaded 10 other captives in a three-day spree of bloodshed and abduction, officials said.

Army spokesman Maj. Alberto Gepilano said the 13 were among a group of 36 people seized Thursday in a raid by the group Abu Sayyaf on a village on the southern island of Basilan. The Abu Sayyaf is also holding a separate group of 20 hostages, including three Americans, on another part of Basilan, a guerrilla stronghold nearly 600 miles south of the capital, Manila.

Of the group seized Thursday from the southern village of Balobo, 10 were found beheaded, said army spokesman Maj. Alberto Gepilano.

After their rescue, the hostages, exhausted from the long trek through the jungle, were brought to a military camp in Basilan for a tearful reunion with relatives.

``We were told by the Abu Sayyaf that they were separating our husbands from us to secure money for our freedom,'' said Cecilia Ramirez, a 42-year-old housewife who was among those rescued. She said that was the last time she saw her husband, who also was abducted and remains missing.

Beheading has become a hallmark of the Abu Sayyaf, who claim they are fighting for an independent Muslim state to be carved out of the southern Philippines _ a mostly Muslim region of this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The Philippine government calls Abu Sayyaf bandits who are out to profit from kidnapping.

At least 16 headless bodies have been discovered near Abu Sayyaf strongholds since early June. Most, or all, of those kidnapped and beheaded were Christian.

It remained unclear Sunday whether any of the original 36 were still being held; at least 34 had been accounted for.

Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling, who heads the military forces in the south, said the 13 rescued _ including eight children _ were abandoned by the Abu Sayyaf early Sunday when the army stormed a temporary guerrilla camp in Basilan's mountainous Kapayawan region. He said there were no immediate reports of casualties in the fighting.

Separately, Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Jose Calimlim said another 11 of the 36 hostages were released by their captors Friday morning. The freed hostages conveyed a message by the Abu Sayyaf telling the military to stop hunting the guerrillas.

The Abu Sayyaf, thought to number 1,100 fighters, carried out an attack on a southwestern beach resort on May 27, seizing 20 hostages, including three Americans.

The group grabbed another approximately 20 people from a hospital and a plantation in Lamitan early in June. The rebels earlier killed four Filipino captives from the resort and Lamitan. Some hostages escaped or were released since then.

The group is still holding a missionary couple, Martin and Gracia Burnham, from Wichita, Kan., but claims to have beheaded the third American, Guillermo Sobero, from Corona, Calif. Sobero's body has not been found, however.

The Abu Sayyaf embarrassed the Philippines in a similar hostage crisis last year when it seized 21 hostages, including foreigners, from a Malaysian resort, and reportedly collected millions of dollars in ransom payments.