France, Germany, South Africa Welcome Philippines Hostage Release
France, Germany and South Africa welcomed the release of five of their citizens, held by Muslim extremists in the southern Philippines and called for the remaining 24 hostages to be freed.
French President Jacques Chirac said: "It is with relief and joy that I learn of the freeing of the first group of hostages from the island of Jolo.
"Everything must now be done, with even greater determination, to secure the freedom of our three compatriots still being held," he added.
Three of those released on Sunday were French nationals.
Abu Sayyaf rebels on the southern Philippines island of Jolo freed Sonia Wendling and journalist Maryse Burgot of France, Franco-Lebanese Marie Moarbes, South African Monique Strydom and German Werner Wallert on Sunday.
But the gunmen still hold 24 hostages.
French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin welcomed the release, but said his joy was mixed with regret that other French and Western hostages had not been released.
A spokesman for South Africa's foreign ministry, Ronnie Mamoepa, told AFP: "We welcome the release as a step in the right direction and hope it will pave the way for the release of the remaining hostages."
He also praised the role that the Libyans and the Philippines had played in the latest releases.
In the Philippines, Libyan envoy Salem Adam described his country's role in negotiating with the Muslim extremists to free the hostages as a "humanitarian mission (with) no other motivations."
Libya has denied a direct government role, saying the Kadhafi Charitable Foundation, an organization headed by a son of Kadhafi, was handling negotiations.
In Tripoli, the Kadhafi Foundation welcomed the release of five hostages being held in the Philippines and said it would carry on working to free the rest.
In Germany, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer spoke of his relief at the news.
He added: "I am thinking of all those who have contributed to the release of these five hostages toady, and most of all to the negotiators on the Libyan side."
He called for negotiations to continue to protect the lives of those still being held. -- PARIS (AFP)
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