Muslim rebels today released 10 Roman Catholic nuns kidnaped last week in exchange for $10,000, two M-16 automatic rifles, two walkie-talkies and possible amnesty, military and civilian officials said.
The officials said they also expect the release soon of an abducted U.S. missionary, the Rev. Brian Lawrence, 30, of Madison, Wis.
"I will bring him out by Monday," said Tarhata Alonto Lucman, 58, a Muslim princess who negotiated the release of the nuns.
Looking tired but in good spirits, the nuns were turned over to Muslim elders at dawn in the town of Lumba Yanagi, outside Marawi, the predominantly Muslim capital of Lanao del Sur province, 500 miles south of Manila.
The princess said that negotiators gave the kidnapers 200,000 pesos--about $10,000--raised by local officials. Besides the money, negotiators also gave the kidnapers two U.S.-made M-16 rifles and two walkie-talkies and promised to work for a grant of amnesty, the princess said.
"We were treated very well, just like guests," Sister Marie Magdalene Ledesma, mother superior of the kidnaped nuns, told reporters in Marawi.
"It was like a picnic," Sister Divinagracia Bagsican said.
The 10 nuns of the Carmelite Order were abducted at gunpoint Friday night from their hilltop convent near the lakeshore provincial capital and taken away aboard a boat.
Ledesma said the kidnapers claimed to belong to a faction of the Muslim separatist group, the Moro National Liberation Front, which is leading a war for self-rule for the nation's 5 million Muslims, most of whom live in the south.
"They want to get some attention from the government," Ledesma said, adding that the rebels seek implementation of an agreement that grants limited autonomy to the Muslims of Mindanao Island and the Sulu archipelago.
Ledesma quoted a kidnaper as saying, "It's not you, sisters, it's Cory," a reference to President Corazon Aquino.
The agreement, signed in 1976, was negotiated by the government of Ferdinand E. Marcos and the Moro Front to end a bloody separatist war that killed more than 60,000 people. It has not been fully implemented, however, because the government of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation has not met demands for a separate Muslim army.
In a letter to his wife, released today by officials of Mindanao State University in Marawi, Lawrence warned the military against mounting a rescue operation.
"If the military tries to get me, I will be killed," Lawrence said. The letter, written Sunday, was sent to his wife Tuesday night.