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Philippine Troops Ready to Rescue Kidnapped Women, says Officer

Military officials in the southern Philippines say they are poised to rescue four women captured by suspected Muslim extremists on the island of Jolo, 1,000 kilometers south of Manila. The women were seized last week by gunmen who beheaded two of their male colleagues.

The deputy commander of the Philippine Southern Command, Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Gudani, says eight battalions are in the area where the kidnappers are suspected to be hiding. "Our troops have been pointed at the targets where the hostages are," said the colonel. "We are expecting contact with them at any time."

Colonel Gudani says the troop began deploying last week while local leaders tried to negotiate the peaceful release of the captives. The deadline for the negotiations expired Tuesday.

He says the kidnappers asked for a ransom of about $120,000 for the captives. But he says the women are not wealthy and their families are unable to pay.

The hostages, who were seized one week ago near the town of Patikul, are members of the Jehovah's Witnesses Christian group. They reportedly were selling cosmetics in the town when they where snatched. The gunmen beheaded the two male members of the group and left their heads in a market with a note calling them infidels.

Some reports have linked the gunmen to the Abu Sayyaf group, which claims to be fighting for an Islamic state in southern Philippines but is better known for kidnapping people for ransom. Military officials, however, say the kidnappers appear to be criminals who objected to the Christian's presence in the largely Muslim area.

Some of the troops deployed to Jolo are Philippine special forces who were trained and equipped by U.S. Green Berets on nearby Basilan island earlier this year. A joint exercise with U.S. troops on Basilan ended a month ago, but a similar one is due to begin in October on Jolo.