June 3, 2001, Reuters, Philippine rebels escape, by Erik de Castro,
Lamitan, Philippines - Muslim rebels broke through a military cordon in the southern Philippines on Sunday, escaping with their US and Filipino hostages.
Police later said they had found the bodies of two other Filipino captives, one of them beheaded.
Using child hostages as human shields, the Abu Sayyaf rebels slipped past hundreds of soldiers encircling a hospital the guerrillas had seized on Basilan island, and melted into surrounding jungles.
Just hours later, fighting resumed in hills three kilometres away and police said they retrieved in the jungles near Lamitan the mutilated bodies of two Filipino men killed by the rebels some days ago.
Five Filipinos, from among 20 people kidnapped by the rebels seven days ago from the Dos Palmas island resort, escaped during the overnight confusion as the bandits slipped out of a hospital and a church that they had seized on Saturday.
Four other captives escaped during the fighting in Lamitan town, on Basilan's northern coast, on Saturday.
One of the two murdered Filipinos, who belonged to the group snatched from the resort, had been beheaded, police chief Omar Dalawis said.
The Basilan provincial governor earlier told Reuters the pair - a resort guard and a cook - had both been decapitated.
Heavy price to pay
"They will have a heavy price to pay," a military spokesperson said. "We will hunt them wherever they go. The two were not killed in a firefight."
Officials believe the two men were killed before the rebels swarmed into Lamitan early on Saturday. The guerrillas were holed up there for over 24 hours before shooting their way through the military cordon, dragging along with them the remainder of the Dos Palmas hostages and several other captives, including nurses.
"They covered their escape with a heavy volume of fire and then used children and other hostages as human shields," Brigadier-General Edilberto Adan told reporters in Manila.
"Our troops withheld their fire ...[even though] they saw rebels moving because some of the hostages might be hit," Adan said, explaining how they were able to get through the military cordon.
He said that of the original batch of 20 captives, the rebels were still holding nine - six Filipinos and three Americans.
Since their abduction, the hostages had been taken across 500 km of water, kept hidden on small isles to avoid detection and forced to hike jungles and mountains for two days.
Adan said he presumed they were now hungry and weak.
The military said at least 16 soldiers have been killed and more than 35 wounded since fighting began in the hills outside Lamitan on Friday. Several civilians and rebels have also died, but there were no confirmed numbers.
Arroyo takes tough line
One army captain was killed near the hospital compound, when a rocket fired from a rebel launcher blasted his armoured car.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has taken a tough line on the kidnappings, vowed there would be no let-up in the military operation and repeated that no ransoms would be paid.
"We will negotiate only for the unconditional release of the hostages ... The purpose is to convince them [the rebels] that this is the best thing they can do because the alternative for them is worse," she told Manila radio dzRH.
The sight of a hospital building and a church with glass windows shattered and walls peppered with bullets greeted armed forces chief General Diomedio Villanueva when he visited Lamitan.
Roads were pockmarked with craters, caused either by rockets fired by air force helicopters or by the rebels.
The bodies of two soldiers and an altar boy lay near the church.
Residents said they saw the guerrillas slipping out of the hospital compound after they had set fire to four nearby houses to divert military attention. A power outage had plunged the town into darkness.
"We were separated from the other hostages when the rebels were making their getaway," Janice Go, one of the five who escaped, told RMN radio. "They took the Americans with them."
Arroyo, an admirer of Britain's "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher, dismisses the rebels as a bandit gang and has vowed to crush them, offering them a choice between death and surrender.
The Abu Sayyaf professes to fight for an Islamic state in the south of the mainly Catholic country, but its main pursuit appears to be kidnap for ransom.