Philippine Rebels: Will Kill Hostages if Attacked
Muslim rebels holding 20 hostages in the Philippines threatened on Tuesday to kill them if the army attacked, prompting the government to impose a news blackout on military operations.
The military, under orders from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to use force against the Abu Sayyaf rebels following Sunday's abductions, said they had yet to pinpoint their location and that of the hostages, who include three Americans.
"We are at a very sensitive stage at this moment," Arroyo told a news conference, after a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf told a radio station that the rebels would conduct "mass killing" should the military attack them.
"It is better to have a news blackout. When there is a war, you know where the priorities are, and there is a war going on in that part of the Philippines," she said.
"To the Abu Sayyaf, it's better for you to free the hostages you abducted while there is still time. Otherwise, bullets will rain on you," she added.
Arroyo, an admirer of Britain's "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher, asked reporters to avoid the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo -- where the rebels say they have taken the hostages -- but she said they would not be prevented from going.
Earlier, the DXRZ radio station said it had received a fresh telephone call from Abu Sabaya, a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf who had earlier claimed responsibility for Sunday's kidnapping from a beach resort at Dos Palmas near the island of Palawan.
"We will not think twice to conduct mass killing once the military will launch offensive operations," the radio station quoted him as saying.
A senior police official said villagers had reported seeing Abu Sayyaf rebels and captives on the island of Jolo, 600 miles south of Manila, on Monday.
Lieutenant General Gregorio Camiling, chief of the military's southern command in Zamboanga, the staging point for any operations on Jolo or Basilan, could not confirm the report.
"We have no indication they landed," he told reporters. "We have already implemented contingency measures, including at possible landing sites."
The government has vowed it will take strong measures against the rebels and will not negotiate.
"Force against force. Arms against arms," Arroyo said in a nationwide broadcast on Monday. "This is what the challenge you hurled against me calls for. I will oblige you."
Abu Sabaya said in a telephone call to a local radio station on Monday that the hostages had been split into two groups and had been taken to Jolo and Basilan.
The military has said that could be a ploy to mislead authorities and that the rebels could be holed up on any one of the tiny islands which dot the area. They said the telephone call to the radio station was probably made by satellite phone.
Last year, Abu Sayyaf seized more than 40 people, including Western tourists from a resort in neighboring Malaysia, and held them for months in the remote hills of Jolo before releasing some in exchange for ransoms of up to $1 million per hostage.
Others escaped or were rescued when the government finally lost patience and ordered a military assault on rebel bases.
Much of the ransom money was used to buy sophisticated arms, powerful speedboats and other equipment, officials have said.
The rebels sailed into the Dos Palmas beach resort before dawn on Sunday and left with their victims without firing a shot -- ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (Reuters)
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