Official: US Hostage Visited Rebels

Saturday, September 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JOLO, Philippines (AP) — An American being held hostage by Muslim rebels visited their camp twice before being abducted and discussed procuring night vision goggles for them, the Philippine national police chief said Saturday.

Jeffrey Schilling, of Oakland, Calif., was taken captive by the Abu Sayyaf rebels Aug. 28 after he visited their camp on southern Jolo island in Sulu province. Schilling says rebel leaders abducted him after they began suspecting he was a CIA agent, which he denies.

But national police chief Panfilo Lacson said Schilling also had visited a rebel camp on the nearby province of Basilan.

``Twice in the past two years Schilling visited the Abu Sayyaf camp in Basilan (and met) with Abu Sayyaf leaders for the procurement of night vision goggles,'' Lacson said in an interview with ABS-CBN television.

``Because he went there without any difficulty, we are wondering why he was kidnapped, because he went to Sulu and transacted business.''

The rebel faction holding Schilling previously operated on Basilan, but fled to Jolo to escape a military assault after they kidnapped about 50 children and teachers from two schools.

On Sept. 16, the military launched a massive attack on Jolo to rescue 17 other hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf, including Schilling and three Malaysians.

Philippine officials have raised questions about Schilling's relationship with the rebels, although they say they continue to believe he is being held against his will.

Schilling's wife, Ivi Osani, is the second cousin of the Abu Sayyaf's spokesman and the widow of a rebel killed several years ago by government troops.

Osani, who went to the rebel camp with Schilling but was not abducted, is being held by police.

Schilling, 24, majored in Near East studies at the University of California at Berkeley and converted to Islam in 1994. He is deeply interested in the status of Muslim minorities in countries like the Philippines, his family says.

The Abu Sayyaf claims it is fighting for an independent Islamic state in the impoverished southern Philippines. In the past six months it has kidnapped scores of people. Most were released after Libya and Malaysia paid more than $15 million in ransom, negotiators say.

Several Philippine news reports have accused Schilling of discussing procurement of supplies such as camouflage uniforms, combat boots and night vision goggles from the United States. Schilling's mother, Carol, has denied he was an arms dealer.

On Saturday, at least two rebels were killed and one soldier was wounded after a gunbattle erupted between government troops and about 100 rebels in a mountainous area in Patikul town, military officials said.