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Abu Sayyaf Guerrillas Kidnap 8 in Phillipines - 2002-08-21

In the Philippines, authorities say suspected Abu Sayyaf guerrillas kidnapped eight people in the southern province of Sulu, but have released two of them. The abduction comes three weeks after the end of joint U.S.-Phillipine military exercises in the region.

The deputy commander of the Philippine southern command, Frank Gudani, says the victims were taken at gunpoint from their car. They were near the town of Patikul, on Jolo Island, about 1,000 kilometers south of Manila.

Colonel Gudani says the captives are Philippine citizens selling cosmetics for the Avon Company, based in the United States, and are not wealthy. Military officials have identified the abductors as followers of a long-time Abu Sayyaf commander on Jolo.

The Philippine military recently began shelling suspected rebel hideouts as part of a wider offensive on the island. Colonel Gudani says the rebels are getting desperate.

"This is a small-time kidnapping compared to what they have been doing in the past. It shows that they are in dire need of funds to support their evil activities."

The incident is the first reported abduction by Abu Sayyaf since a United States military exercise on neighboring Basilan Island ended three weeks ago.

Philippine officials say the Abu Sayyaf rebels have been severely crippled in Basilan and indicate that new offensives will focus on Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf rebels also are thought to be holding three Indonesian sailors who were kidnapped from a tugboat off Jolo Island two months ago.

That kidnapping came days after Philippine troops, backed by U.S. trainers and equipment, rescued an American hostage, missionary Gracia Burnham, from Abu Sayyaf rebels in Zamboanga del Norte province. Two hostages, Ms. Burnham's husband Martin and Philippine nurse Ediborah Yap, were killed in the rescue effort.

The Abu Sayyaf rebels claim to be fighting for a Muslim state in the southern Philippines, but are best known for a series of kidnappings and murders.

The U.S. and Philippine governments say the group has links to the al-Qaida terrorist network. The United States has pledged new equipment and training for the Philippine military as part of its war on international terrorism.

The warming ties come after a decade of low-key relations following the closure of all U.S. military bases in the Philippines.

Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes Wednesday returned from a trip to Washington saying he sees a more robust relationship developing between the two countries.

However the return of U.S. troops has angered Philippine nationalists, who say it violates the Philippine constitution.