Hostages Reportedly Fired On

From Associated Press

Muslim extremists holding 20 hostages, including three Americans, clashed with the military in the southern Philippines early today. There were unconfirmed reports of seven people injured, including at least two captives.

Abu Sabaya, a commander with the Abu Sayyaf rebel group, phoned a local radio station, saying his group was under attack. He repeated a threat to kill the hostages. Gunfire rang out as he spoke breathlessly to RMN radio station.

"We've received information that a total of seven have been injured, but the information has to be confirmed by the military," presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao said later.

The military said a lieutenant had been wounded, but the identities of other casualties were not known.

Sabaya claimed that two hostages had been hit by gunfire. He then allowed hostage Teresa Ganzon to talk.

"Please refrain from military action," said Ganzon, her voice breaking. "We are being treated well up to now, but these encounters are going to cost us our lives."

Ganzon said the American hostages were with her group, but she could not confirm if two hostages had been wounded.

Reacting to the appeal, National Security Advisor Roilo Golez said the government is seeking the "unconditional release" of the hostages but that military operations against the Abu Sayyaf will continue.

"The ground commanders have orders to see to the safety of the hostages," Golez said.

Sabaya said the clash started when his men allowed a group of hostages to take a bath in a river. He said advancing troops found them and started firing.

"The soldiers thought they were rebels like us," Sabaya said of the hostages. Refusing to identify who was hit, he raised an ominous possibility: "Maybe we will stage an execution. Welcome to the party."

Col. Juvenal Narcise, leader of an army battalion on southern Basilan island, confirmed the fighting but did not say whether the military had spotted the hostages.

Sabaya said that in addition to the 20 hostages taken Sunday from the Dos Palmas beach resort in the southwestern Philippines, his group also had seized 10 fishermen.

On Thursday, the military sent 5,000 troops to search for the rebels and their hostages.

With the Philippine president vowing to crush the rebels, Brig. Gen. Romeo Dominguez said his troops were on a "rescue and destroy" mission.

The military blockaded a 60-mile-wide stretch of ocean after local radio quoted residents as saying they saw the hostages Wednesday night in a boat lined with grenades strung together.

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