American in Philippines on Strike

Saturday, September 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) — An American man kidnapped by Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines is on a hunger strike, the guerrillas said Saturday.

The Abu Sayyaf rebels had requested food and medicine be sent to their camp on remote Jolo island for Jeffrey Schilling, 24, of Oakland, Calif. U.S. officials say he is seriously ill and needs regular prescription medicine, but the nature of his condition was not clear.

Asked Saturday how Schilling was, rebel spokesman Abu Sabaya replied: ``He is still there. He is on a hunger strike now.'' He did not elaborate.

Philippine Red Cross officials instructed their staff not to deliver food to the rebel camp until clearance is obtained from the Abu Sayyaf and the military, because of the danger of abduction, the Radio Mindanao Network said.

Americans were also warned against traveling in the southern Philippines by the U.S. State Department on Friday.

The Abu Sayyaf, which says it is fighting for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines, is holding six other foreigners and 12 Filipinos. The group freed six hostages last week for a reported $6 million ransom, paid by Libya. It had freed other hostages earlier.

Philippine President Joseph Estrada said he was confident Saturday that the kidnappings would be resolved soon.

``It won't last long,'' he said. ``We are doing everything to establish peace and order.''

Philippine negotiators had hoped the Abu Sayyaf would release the six Westerners, including two French television journalists, this weekend. But chief negotiator Robert Aventajado said the release would be delayed until after the return of a Libyan envoy on Monday, at the earliest.

Libya has played a prominent role in negotiations for 21 tourists and workers, mostly foreigners, kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf from a Malaysian dive resort on April 23.

The Abu Sayyaf are also holding 12 Filipino Christian evangelists who were seized in early July when they visited the rebels' camp to pray for the other hostages.

Sabaya said the group's leader, Wilde Almeda, is in serious condition, possibly because of a stroke.

``He can no longer move. Almeda has committed a lot sins against Islam, saying a lot of things not only against the group, but also against Islam,'' Sabaya said. ``So if the group decides, he may just become fertilizer here in Jolo.''

Schilling, abducted Sunday, is being held on Jolo by a different Abu Sayyaf faction. The rebels holding him are responsible for kidnapping about 50 schoolchildren and teachers in March on neighboring Basilan island.

Two of the teachers were beheaded after the United States ignored the group's demand for the release of several Arab terrorists held in U.S. jails. The faction also is accused in the torture and death of a Catholic priest.

The rebels had threatened to behead Schilling, but Sabaya pledged no harm would come to him during negotiations.

``While we are conducting talks ... we will not consider any violence against Mr. Schilling,'' Sabaya pledged. ``But if we lose our patience, then the U.S. will really regret it.''

An emissary who visited the rebels' camp reported that Schilling had been tied up after resisting captivity. The report could not be verified.

The rebels had demanded $10 million for Schilling's release Thursday, with Sabaya reportedly saying that ``one American is worth 10 Europeans.''

But in a radio interview Saturday, Sabaya said the group intended to make political demands.

``We want only one thing and that is our political demands. If we talk about money, many anti-American groups are offering us money and arms if we kill this American,'' Sabaya said.

The U.S. State Department has ruled out paying ransom to the rebels.