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Freed hostages shed new light on fate of missing Americans

Helicopter gunman
The military has been ordered to track down and destroy the Abu Sayyaf  

By staff and wire reports

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (CNN) -- Two Filipino hostages freed by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the southern Philippines Tuesday say they have seen two of the three American hostages seized from a beach resort in May.

However, they said they had not seen the third, Guillermo Sobero, a tourist from California the Abu Sayyaf claimed to have beheaded some three weeks ago.

The pair told authorities they had seen an American missionary couple -- Martin and Gracia Burnham -- within the last three days, but no sign of Sobero.

Col. Danilo Servando, a Philippine military spokesman, said the military found the freed hostages, Lalaine Chua, 15, and Luis Bautista, 32, on Basilan island.

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    Before leaving Zamboanga, Bautista gave an interview on local radio station RMN (Radio Mindanao Network) during which he read a letter from the Abu Sayyaf that included threats to kidnap more Americans and Europeans.

    Kidnappers' demands

    The letter also included a number of demands from the gunmen including:

    - calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. and European troops and businesses from the Middle East; the withdrawal of support for Israel; and the withdrawal of support for the Philippine government in Mindanao.

    The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for an independent Muslim state but the Philippines government says the group are nothing more than bandits specializing in kidnappings for ransom.

    15-year-old Lalaine Chua is whisked away by relatives after her long ordeal  

    "They are scum and we will get them," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was quoted as saying Friday.

    Chua and Bautista were among 17 Filipinos and the three Americans kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf from a tourist resort on the island of Palawan on May 27.

    Since then a massive military operation has been launched by the Philippine government.

    Troops have been ordered to rescue the hostages and wipe out their kidnappers.

    'Ransom paid'

    Partly because of that, 11 hostages have been freed, but intermediaries allege relatives of those hostages have paid ransom for their release.

    Most of those hostages have denied that any money has changed hands and military officials say they are unaware of the any ransom being paid to secure the latest releases.

    President Arroyo: 'They are scum'  

    Two of the original 20 hostages seizes from the beach resort have been killed and further hostages abducted by the gunmen in a series of subsequent raids.

    Two of these new hostages have also been found murdered.

    After a medical checkup at a Philippine military base in Zamboanga, Chua and Bautista were flown to Manila Tuesday afternoon.

    Meanwhile officials say the situation on Basilan island remains dangerous with other armed groups on the island, including renegade members of the Moro National Liberation Front.

    On Monday reports emerged that some members of that group claimed to have seen all three of the American hostages alive, including Sobero.

    While the Abu Sayyaf said it killed Sobero, his body has never been found. The Philippine military has also been unable to substantiate the claim.

    • Abu Sayyaf Group
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