JOLO—A Libyan envoy yesterday accused Muslim rebels who snatched 21 Western and Asian hostages more than two weeks ago of inhumanity and violating the tenets of Islam by holding innocent people.
Mr Abdul Rajab Azzarouq, former ambassador to the Philippines, criticised the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers for holding people who have nothing to do with the conflict.
The hostage-takers should not use religion as a reason to keep the hostages isolated from their families, he said.Islam is against any activity that violates human rights.
The diplomat, visiting the remote island of Jolo where the 21 hostages are held, told The Associated Press that he had President Joseph Estrada's blessing.
I am here to help negotiate, to try to find a way to release those who are kept against their will, Mr Azzarouq said. The holding of these hostages is un-Islamic... inhuman.
As the crisis becomes increasingly internationalised, something Manila had hoped to avoid, the ambassadors of the hostages' countries have been pressing for briefings, TV reports said.
Violence in the impoverished southern region of Mindanao, where Muslim guerillas are fighting to carve an Islamic nation from the predominantly Christian Philippines, has increased in recent weeks, leaving dozens dead and driving more than 100,000 people from their homes.
The violence forced Mr Estrada to cancel plans for a caravan for peace and unity through the region that was to have begun yesterday. The group of 21 hostages includes three Germans, two French, two South Africans, two Finns, a Lebanese, nine Malaysians and two Filipinos. They were snatched from Sipadan Island, a Malaysian diving resort.
The Abu Sayyaf is the smaller and more extreme of two Muslim rebel groups.
It is also holding in nearby Basilan province a group of Filipino hostages seized from schools.
After clashes, killings and rescues, approximately eight people, mostly children, are thought to remain in their hands.
Four Abu Sayyaf leaders holding the 21 Jolo hostages sent a letter to Mr Estrada on Saturday rejecting his negotiator, former rebel Nur Misuari, and demanding to negotiate with the ambassadors from the hostages' countries, presidential Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, and representatives of the United Nations, Libya and other Islamic nations.
The rebels have not yet made any concrete demands for the hostages' release.
The government insisted again yesterday that Mr Misuari would not be undercut, but it has shown signs of bending in the face of growing international concern about the hostages, who are frightened, exhausted and ill.
The government has repeatedly insisted that the kidnapping is a domestic issue and refused to include other countries in the negotiations.