Hostage calls U.S. embassy, begs to be freed

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MANILA, AFP

An American hostage held by Muslim extremist kidnappers in the southern Philippines, has called the U.S. embassy here and begged his government to pay a US$10 million ransom for his release, a senior presidential aide said Wednesday.

Jeffrey Schilling telephoned the mission on Monday and “asked the U.S. embassy to pay ransom through Libya,” said the Cabinet-level aide, who asked not to be named.

Schilling told U.S. embassy officials the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas wanted US$10 million and that they have taken him to an unspecified location from the southern island of Jolo, where more than 4,000 troops and police are pursuing the kidnappers in a massive operation launched on Sept. 16.

U.S. officials were unavailable for comment late Wednesday.

But embassy spokesman Thomas Skipper said over ABS CBN television in a telephone interview earlier Wednesday that “there is no change in the U.S. policy. We are not here to make any kind of a deal.”

While Skipper said the U.S. government supported Philippine government efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers previous to the assault, he reiterated Washington’s demand for the “unconditional release” of the 24-year-old captive from Oakland, California.

Western governments had earlier tapped Libya to negotiate with the kidnappers of a group of European tourists snatched across the border in Malaysia in April.

The German, Finnish, French, South African and Franco-Lebanese hostages, along with nine Malaysians, one Filipino — and a number of European and Filipino journalists who were snatched while covering the crisis — were freed in several batches between June 24 and Sept. 9.