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No U.S. ransom for Philippine hostages

Dos Palmas resort
The Abu Sayyaf's latest kidnapping occurs just before peace talks with another Muslim rebel group  


WASHINGTON -- The United States will not pay a ransom to free three Americans among 20 people being held hostage by Philippine Muslim rebels.

The U.S. also demanded that all those abducted by the Abu Sayyaf from a resort in the western Philippine province of Palawan be freed "immediately, safely and unconditionally."

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said: "The United States roundly condemns this latest act of terrorism by this group, and we remain in close touch with the government of the Philippines about the matter."

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The Abu Sayyaf is trying to stave off a military offensive by threatening to kill the hostages they took from the upmarket Dos Palams resort in Palawan on Sunday.

The rebels belong to the smaller of two Muslim separatist groups fighting for an Independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

The government has imposed a news blackout to help ensure the safety of the hostages and the success of rescue operations.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered the military to use force against the Abu Sayyaf.

Recurrent nightmare

The three Americans taken hostage from the Palawan resort include missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, from Wichita, Kansas, who have been in the Philippines for 15 years.

Martin and Gracia Burnham
American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham  

The third is diving enthusiast Guillermo Sobero from Corona, California, who spent his 40th birthday in captivity on Tuesday.

The Abu Sayyaf last year seized more than 40 people, including Western tourists, from a resort in neighboring Malaysia and held them for months before freeing them in return for ransoms of up to $1 million per hostage.

Officials say much of the ransom money was used to buy sophisticated arms, powerful speedboats, and other equipment.

In April, the military rescued American hostage Jeffrey Schilling from the Abu Sayyaf which had threatened to behead him.

Schilling was one of two remaining hostages of the rebel group after last year's hostage crisis. The other is Filipino Roland Ullah, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

The Philippine government has dismissed the Abu Sayyaf as a group of bandits and left it out of peace talks due in June with the larger Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Reuters contributed to this report.







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• Philippine Office of the Press Secretary
• Armed Forces of the Philippines
• Profile on Abu Sayyaf

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