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Philippine Troops Withdraw From Rebel Base

The Philippine government withdrew about 800 security personnel around Abu Sayyaf rebels Saturday in hopes of saving the lives of three kidnapped Red Cross workers.

The rebels had threatened to behead one of their hostages if security forces did not withdraw from the southern Philippine island of Jolo by Monday. Rebels had suggested they would free a hostage if the forces withdrew.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, had asked the Philippine government to consider the kidnappers' demands.

Philippine Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said troops will not completely withdraw from the island. But he says he hopes the partial withdrawal will bring the rebels back to negotiations to release the three.

The Swiss, Italian and Filipino Red Cross workers have been held since January 15, and the situation appears to be getting increasingly desperate.

The Red Cross workers are the latest kidnap victims of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist group that claims to be fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines but has earned notoriety for its kidnap-for-ransom activities and beheadings.

In 2001, the group kidnapped three Americans, including a missionary couple. One was beheaded. One of the missionaries was rescued by U.S military-trained Filipino soldiers, but her husband was killed during the rescue operation.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.