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Posted: 6/14/2001 8:48:13 AM EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The family of a U.S. hostage being held in the Philippines said on Wednesday the FBI told them it was very likely he was a victim of "foul play" but his relatives clung to the slim hope he was still alive. Muslim rebels holding Guillermo Sobero along with two other U.S. citizens and 17 Filipinos, said Tuesday they had executed him. Two headless bodies were found but officials identified both bodies as those of local men. Alberto Sobero, brother of the hostage, told ABC's "Good Morning America" program that the U.S. State Department told them it could take several hours to days before the two bodies could be positively identified. "The FBI has told us that the likelihood that he (Guillermo) has met foul play is now very high," added Sobero from his home in Cathedral, California. The rebels seized Sobero, an American missionary couple and 17 Filipinos from a beach resort near Palawan island on May 27. After escapes, rescues and fresh seizures, they now hold more than two dozen hostages. Alberto Sobero said he was still clinging to the hope his brother was alive. "That's all we have left now is just hope. If indeed they have killed him they have left four children without a father and a grieving mother. We are still clinging to that very slim hope that he will return," Sobero said. Aimee Sobero, 13, and the eldest of the hostage's four children, also appeared on the program. She said her other siblings, aged 6, 3 and 2, had been told only that their father was away working. The teen-ager, who has previously made personal appeals to the hostage-takers to release her father, said he would never have gone on a diving holiday in the Philippines if he had known the danger that faced him there. "If he would have known something bad was going to happen to him and cause such grief to the whole family, he wouldn't have gone," she said. In a separate interview with CBS News "The Early Show", Aimee said she had written to President George W. Bush asking for his help. "All I know is that we really needed his help, because he's the boss, pretty much, and without him, nothing's possible, really," said the teen-ager. Alberto Sobero said if the Muslim rebels had harmed his brother, then maybe it was time for the Bush administration to change its policy of not intervening in such situations. "If they have in fact harmed my brother then maybe it is time for the Bush administration to change the way it has been handling the situation," he said. The Abu Sayyaf rebels holding the hostages say they are fighting for Muslim self-rule in the south of the Roman Catholic Philippines.
Link Posted: 6/14/2001 8:58:59 AM EST
Friday June 15, 8:00 AM Gov't arms Basilan civilians against Abu THE military began arming civilian militias in the southern province of Basilan Thursday to back thousands of troops hunting Abu Sayyaf bandits holding three American hostages. Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman, said firearms would issue firearms to civilians, who will be called "division volunteers" and required to undergo rigid military training. The announcement was made as the Abu Sayyaf rebels broke a 48-hour silence, but their first public statement since claiming to have already beheaded Californian Guillermo Sobero made no mention of the fate of any hostages. "People have the right and responsibility to defend themselves," Interior Secretary Jose Lina said as he emerged with Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes from a meeting with local government officials in Isabela, the capital of Basilan. The mayors of Basilan's seven municipalities will also be provided with satellite telephones to report guerrilla movements, they said, as intelligence reports said the kidnappers and their hostages have split into several groups. The guerrillas' brief statement said they were holding a Muslim cleric Mohaimin Sahi who they allowed to call the Radio Mindanao Network in Zamboanga city, but the military questioned the veracity of the call. They said the voice could not identified, and the name was similar to Muhaymin Latip Saji, a Muslim cleric who officials had identified as the headless body found earlier in the week. It could be a ploy by the rebels to hide the execution of a Muslim religious leader, said Adan. Beheaded The man claiming to be a Muslim cleric said Thursday the rebels told him an American hostage had been beheaded but showed no proof. "They have beheaded one American," Sahi said in a telephone message to a radio station, adding that he did not witness the execution and could not support the claim. Adan said the Muslim cleric claiming to be Sahi "could have been anybody. It might be bad for (guerrilla spokesman) Abu Sabaya to have killed a Muslim leader and incur the wrath of his fellow Muslims." Mohaimin, who said he was detained last week when he visited the rebel lair, said the Abu Sayyaf separated their 29 hostages into two groups. "I am a hostage now. I am being detained, I want to leave but they won't allow me. The other hostages have been split," he told Radio Mindanao Network. Abu Sabaya had claimed on Tuesday that Sobero of California, one of three Americans snatched by the rebels, had been executed. But after two days silence he made no reference to any killings when making a statement on radio Thursday confirming that Mohaimin had been detained on suspicion he may be spying for the military. Mohaimin, an Islamic cleric, was said to have been missing since he visited the rebels' camp in Basilan last week. Muhaymin Latip Saji is also believed to have visited the camp last week. "We did not behead Ustadz (cleric) Mohaimin. We merely detained him because the military would be able to fix our location if we release him," Sabaya claimed.
Link Posted: 6/14/2001 9:00:14 AM EST
Building up The government has been building up military strength on Basilan all week, and there are now 5,000 troops hunting an estimated 460 rebels holding more than two dozen hostages in the island's vast jungle terrain. "Our troops there are now training those civilians on how to properly handle the firearms we will issue," Adan said. The police and army units will be "screening civilians who will be authorized to bear government issued firearms to defend their villages." More than 1,000 applications were expected to be approved. Adan said some of those chosen were formerly trained under the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu). Apparently, the decision to arm the residents came after the military thwarted a possible attack by the Abu Sayyaf on the Lantawan Municipal Hall on Tuesday. "It was because of these civilians [that] we were able to stop the planned attacks of the Abu Sayyaf on the municipal hall," Adan added. The Abu Sayyaf, who claim they beheaded Sobero on Tuesday, are also holding Americans Martin and Gracia Burnham who were seized from the Dos Palwas resort in Palawan last month, and at least 25 Filipino hostages. Troops pursuing the guerrillas have found no evidence that Sobero is dead, and the government has said the guerrilla claim may be a bluff. Three beheaded bodies have been found in the past week, but Adan said they were Filipinos. "We know they separated the hostages into different groups of about four, but the present constitution was not certain," said Brig. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, head of the military task force on the island. Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya accused the military of killing civilians before passing them off as Abu Sayyaf guerrillas. Offering The government moved to arm civilians after the mayor of Tipo-Tipo on Basilan, Joel Maturan, said the Abu Sayyaf was offering guns to youths and payments of P30,000 to their mothers or wives. Adan acknowledged the money offered by the Abu Sayyaf appeared attractive to the unemployed young on Basilan who "have been made to believe that they are fighting for a cause for their homeland when actually they are being turned into criminals." Mayor Maturan said the hostages were last seen in his municipality on Friday with one male and female Caucasian. The man was wearing military fatigues and looked dispirited, he said. The woman wore a Muslim veil and appeared in good spirits. Suspicions were also raised Thursday about possible Abu Sayyaf involvement in the hijacking of Malaysian barge off Borneo island. The vessel was taken across the border to the Philippines. But military spokesman Danilo Servando said the hijacking was being treated as piracy, and "is not in any way connected with the Abu Sayyaf." The kidnappers have been demanding Malaysian negotiators mediate in the hostage crisis, but Kuala Lumpur has been reluctant to get involved because there were no Malaysian hostages. (Sunnex/wires)
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