Philippines raiders nab 20 resort hostages
By Staff and wire reports
PUERTO PRINCENSA, Philippines -- A large air and sea hunt is on for kidnappers who abducted 20 people, including tourists, in a dawn raid on a Philippines beach resort.
Gunmen in a motorboat struck on the western Philippine island of Palawan at 5 am on Sunday, escaping with one Spanish, two American and Filipino tourists and some resort staff. At least one child was thought to be among them.
The raiders held staff at gunpoint at the Dos Palmas resort in Palwan while others roused tourists sleeping in cottages built on stilts over the water.
Palawan is a popular international destination for diving and snorkelling and is further north than where previous Philippines kidnappings have taken place.
Authorities quickly mounted a large operation involving planes, helicopters and patrol boats to try to head off the kidnappers. One official said: "The armed group will be pursued and destroyed."
Police declined to speculate about the identity of the kidnappers but the men spoke in Tausog, a Muslim language used in the southern island of Mindanao. Tausog is used by the Abu Sayyaf rebel group.
Military spokesman General Ediberto Adan told Reuters: "They were terrorists from the south. We have not identified their specific group . . . We have launched pursuit operations."
He said he could not confirm whether the kidnappers were members of the Abu Sayyaf rebel force, a separatist group whose goal is an Islamic state in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.
The Abu Sayyaf last year seized more than 40 tourists and Filipinos from two resorts in nearby Malaysia and from Jolo island in the southern Philippines.
National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said in a radio interview that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was closely monitoring the developments and was receiving "minute-by-minute updates".
"The government policy is no ransom, no negotiation," he said.
Left in two boats
At the resort security officer Rudy Gordono said: "It all happened very quickly. Everyone was stunned and no one could talk . . . It was all over in 15 to 20 minutes."
Police said the raiders left in the two boats with their victims. One of the boats was seen speeding off to the northeast, in the direction of other tourist resorts in the area.
"One of the boats was going northeast but this might just be a diversionary tactic . . . The sea is very wide," police Colonel Orlando Madela told reporters.
Police said they had no reports of any shots being fired or of any injuries in the raid.
All other tourist resorts on Palawan have been put on alert and Navy ships as well air force helicopters had stepped up security around the island, the military said.
"We are now scouring the shores of Palawan. It is an open sea and our aircraft and all available Navy vessels are scouring the area," Villanueva said.
Tourist resort attacks
It was the second attack by gunmen on a tourist resort in the country's volatile south in five days.
Just before midnight last Tuesday gunmen attacked a tourist resort on the southern island of Samal, killing two people and snatching two Filipino hostages, who were later released.
Troops are chasing the gang, which retreated to the mountains after snatching four villagers to use as human shields.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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