A Libyan mediator held talks Monday with extremist kidnappers on the status of three French journalists among more than a dozen mostly foreign hostages held in the southern Philippines jungle.
Rajab Azzarouq, Libya's retired ambassador to Manila, told reporters he spoke with an Abu Sayyaf leader he identified as Abu Sabri.
He said this faction held at gunpoint three France-2 television journalists, who were abducted on July 9th while they covered a hostage crisis involving a group of tourists and resort workers kidnapped from the Malaysian resort of Sipadan on April 23rd.
"I met with Abu Sabri about the status of the journalists," he said.
Asked if any of the other hostages would be freed soon, Azzarouq said: "We are working on that as usual."
He added that "we've talked to them. There is progress. We're optimistic," but he would not elaborate.
Gunmen from at least three Abu Sayyaf factions are holding 15 French, Malaysian, Finnish, German, South African and Franco-Lebanese hostages as well as a number of Filipinos.
Fourteen of the captives were abducted from Sipadan, along with six other Malaysians and a German who have since been freed.
Subsequently, the guerillas captured several journalists who covered the hostage drama. Among the media captives released were a German journalist and two Filipino television broadcasters.
The Abu Sayyaf gunmen were reportedly paid up to 5.5 million dollars for those released so far.
Azzarouq arrived in Jolo on Sunday as part of an elaborate plan by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi to secure the release of the remaining hostages, informed sources said.
The mediator said he discussed Libya's plans to set up "development projects" for the island with the Abu Sayyaf as well as other Muslim community leaders and clerics in Jolo in separate talks Monday. He said these include schools, medical clinics, and housing for one of the country's poorest areas.
Azzarouq had earlier denied reports that Libya would pay 25 million dollars to redeem the remaining hostages -- JOLO, Philippines (AFP)
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