Philippine military denies hostages released

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, AFP

The Philippine military dashed hopes Friday that Muslim guerrillas holding American and Filipino hostages had freed any captives.

There was no evidence to support newspaper claims that two Filipinos had been released, nor was there evidence to support the Abu Sayyaf rebels’ claim that they beheaded American hostage Guillermo Sobero, the military said.

“The reported release has not happened,” said military spokesman Brigadier General Edilberto Adan.

“There is no release as of this morning, so the two hostages have not been released.”

Since early Thursday rumors of an impending release had been swirling around southern Basilan island, where the hostages are being held.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer said Friday that hostages Lalaine Chua and Letty Jao had been freed after their families paid 10 million pesos (US$196,000) in ransom.

But a local doctor named in the report as a negotiator denied having taken part in any ransom talks.

An official military list of hostages includes 12-year-old Lalaine Chua and 15-year-old Kimberly Jao, with Kimberly’s mother Letty named among nine Filipinos who escaped last week.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed official as saying the negotiations were brokered by Huda Lim, a provincial health officer and Red Cross official in Basilan.

But Lim told radio station DZMM she had never spoken to the families of either victim, and for the past several days had been involved in checking on medical missions in towns attacked by the Abu Sayyaf.

“I have not spoken to any members of their families. I do not know where this report came from and I am surprised that my name is in the papers,” she said.

She offered that her name could have been linked to the incident because she helped in medical missions during a similar hostage crisis last year.

While the military ruled out that the hostages had been freed, officials left open the prospect that a release was imminent.

“Rumors have been flying,” said presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao.

“If that rumor’s true, then we’re very happy that their ordeal has ended.”

The Malaya newspaper said Chua’s father Benito had sold his business to raise ransom money, but could not meet the 10 million-pesos demanded.