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Muslim Rebels Open to Making a Deal for Hostage Release - 2002-04-29

A radical Muslim separatist group holding an American missionary couple and a Philippine nurse hostage in the southern Philippines, told a local radio station Monday it was open to making a deal for the release of the hostages.

A spokesman for the separatist Abu Sayyaf, Abu Sabaya, told Radio Mindanao Network his group was open to talks with presidential advisor Norberto Gonzales and regional Muslim Governor Parouk Hussin.

Mr. Sabaya said the hostages were in good health and denied reports that his group already received a 300-thousand dollar ransom for their release.

The rebel spokesman's comments came just a day after the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, visited Basilan island for a security briefing with U.S. troops. Before leaving for Japan and South Korea, General Myers said the U.S. government would help crush terrorist movements linked to al-Qaida operating in the region.

Over 3,000 troops are currently in the Philippines holding joint anti-terrorist exercises with the Philippine army. Around one thousand U.S. soldiers are on the southern Philippine island of Basilan, a known Abu Sayyaf stronghold and where the three hostages are believed to be held Rebel spokesman Abu Sabaya called the joint U.S.-Philippine exercises a failure and said it was "embarrassing because the superpower can't do anything to us."

The Abu Sayyaf number only about 100 men but have caused deep trouble to the government, after receiving millions of dollars from a two year kidnap-for-ransom spree, involving dozens of foreigners and Philippine residents. They have beheaded a number of their victims.