Muslim rebels in the Philippines tell family of American hostage that he is dead
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) – The leader of a Philippine rebel group responded to an emotional appeal by the sister of one of the group’s hostages with this hopeless message: Your brother is dead.
Speaking on Radio Mindanao Network on Monday, Ana Sobero made a public plea to the Abu Sayyaf to let her brother, Guillermo, speak to his family and relieve their suffering. The Abu Sayyaf, which is holding scores of hostages – including three Americans – uses the station to make statements.
”Guillermo, we hope that you can hear us,” she said, reading a letter from their mother.
She then addressed the rebels: ”We understand that your people have suffered much. We do not understand the politics of your situation. We want to call on your higher spirit and your belief in Allah. Please have mercy. Please relieve our suffering and let him speak to Radio Mindanao.”
The station reported Tuesday that it had received a call soon afterward from Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya which it did not air. In the call, Sabaya said he could not grant the request because Sobero is dead.
The Abu Sayyaf claimed two weeks ago to have beheaded 40-year-old Guillermo Sobero, of Corona, Calif., in the jungles of the southern island province of Basilan. But his body has not been found, leading to faint hopes that the rebels might have been bluffing.
Speaking by satellite telephone to The Associated Press from Basilan, Sabaya on Monday threatened to execute more hostages, including another American, Martin Burnham, if the government does not allow Sabaya’s choice of negotiators.
Burnham is being held with wife Gracia. The Christian missionaries are longtime residents of the Philippines.
Sabaya demanded former Malaysian senator Sairin Karno, Malaysian merchant Yusof Hamdan and Filipino official Farrouk Hussein, who were involved in mediating the end to another Abu Sayyaf hostage crisis last year, reportedly for millions of dollars in ransoms.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 members in Basilan, claims it is fighting for Islamic independence in the southern region of Mindanao. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dismisses them as simply criminals.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan said a massive military campaign to rescue the hostages and wipe out the guerrillas was under way but was being complicated by two other rebel groups who are aiding the Abu Sayyaf.
Recently, the Moro National Liberation Front, a large Muslim separatist rebel group, backed the Abu Sayyaf in a clash in Basilan, Adan told a news briefing. The group signed a peace accord with the government in 1996.
Abu Sayyaf guerrillas have also sought sanctuary in the Basilan jungle lairs of a faction of another Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Adan said. The government is pursuing peace talks with the MILF and signed a cease-fire with the group last week in Libya.
Army Scout Rangers clashed with a group of Abu Sayyaf guerrillas Tuesday afternoon in a remote village on Basilan, but there were no immediate reports of casualties, said Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling. While there were no sightings of the hostages, he said the fighting raised spirits.
”This is a positive development,” said Camiling. ”We were looking for them and we made contact.”
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