Tribal gang frees Philippine hostages

Thirteen hostages, mostly teachers, found abandoned by captors after search involving hundreds of soldiers.

    The freed hostages are now undergoing medical check-ups and stress debriefing [AFP]

    Philippine security forces have found 13 hostages, including a child, after the tribal gunmen who had held them since last week abandoned them in a remote part of the country's south.

    Negotiators convinced the near-illiterate gunmen from the forest-dwelling Manobo tribe late on Tuesday to let the group of 11 teachers, a student and a driver go in exchange for the fair treatment of a relative awaiting trial on suspicion of kidnap and murder, a government statement said.

    Hundreds of soldiers and police officers were scouring the mountains near Prosperidad town on Mindanao island after the tribal gang disappeared into the forest, Lieutenant-Colonel Leopoldo Galon, army spokesman, told reporters.

    The gunmen demanded the release of Ondo Perez, a detained tribal leader, who is charged with murder and for kidnapping a group of 79 people, including teachers and schoolchildren, in La Prosperidad town in 2009.

    Five Manobo gunmen seized 16 teachers and children on Mindanao and held them at their jungle hideout. Three hostages were subsequently released.

    Police said another person, who was related to some of the gunmen and had tried to negotiate a resolution, was found with the hostages.

    "They were abandoned," said Alvin Magdamit, mayor of Prosperidad town and head of the crisis management team that negotiated to end the five-day hostage drama.

    "They are now undergoing medical check-up and stress debriefing," he said, adding they were in good physical condition, although some had bruises and mosquito bites.

    The hostages, wearing white t-shirts and looking haggard after their ordeal, were paraded at a media conference at Magdamit's house.

    They said the gunmen treated them well during captivity and they were never harmed. Magdamit said the government did not give in to any demand from the tribal gang.

    "Their leader demanded that they be treated fairly and their cases be swiftly acted upon," Magdamit said, adding tribal elders were brought in to help resolve the problem.

    "Those responsible for the kidnapping will be held accountable," he added.

    Resource-rich but impoverished Mindanao makes up roughly the southern third of the Philippines. Communist and Muslim insurgencies have claimed thousands of lives on the island over recent decades.

    Senior members of a Mindanao-based Muslim clan and nearly 200 members of their government-armed militia force are on trial for the November 2009 abductions and murders of 57 people including political rivals and journalists.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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