The Philippine military said on Thursday it had found items on the remote southern island of Basilan suggesting that hostages kidnapped by Muslim rebels may have been taken to one of their hideouts there.
"We are still verifying whether these items came from the hostages or from other visitors on the island," military spokesman Brigadier-General Edilberto Adan told reporters as the hunt for the three American and 17 Filipino hostages continued.
"It's possible they have reached Basilan. It's very possible they are there now," Adan said, referring to the mountainous, heavily forested island in the southern Philippines which Abu Sayyaf guerrillas have long used as a hideout.
Adan gave no details of what was found, but said ground troops in Basilan, about 550 miles south of Manila, were investigating.
The military had thrown a cordon around Basilan and nearby Jolo island in an attempt to prevent the rebels from reaching areas which they know well and where they enjoy considerable local support.
Last year, Abu Sayyaf rebels held up to 40 hostages for weeks on Jolo. Local officials say that they received about $20 million in ransom payments.
Rebels kidnapped the 20 hostages at gunpoint on Sunday from the Dos Palmas island resort, about 300 miles northwest of Basilan.
An Abu Sayyaf spokesman who claimed responsibility for the kidnapping told a radio station the hostages had been divided into two groups and taken to Jolo and Basilan. Military officials said that could have been an attempt to mislead authorities -- MANILA (Reuters)
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