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Philippines deals with crisis after crisis in troubled south

Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines — Tribal gunmen freed 47 hostages in the southern Philippines on Sunday, but the region continued to be wracked by violence as suspected Islamic radicals staged a deadly jailbreak in which dozens were freed, including comrades accused of beheading marines.

The three-day hostage standoff in Agusan del Sur province and the jail raid on Basilan island come on the heels of a political massacre last month in a nearby frontier region in which 57 people were killed. The back-to-back crises underscore the complexity of conflicts raging in the country's south, an impoverished region awash with firearms, outlaws, political warlords and Muslim insurgents.

The remaining 47 hostages freed were among the more than 75 people, including children, who were taken Thursday by gunmen trying to evade police serving warrants for a string of charges, including murder.

The kidnappers' jungle encampment had been surrounded by troops and snipers. Vice Gov. Santiago Cane of Agusan del Sur said the gunmen — former government-armed militiamen — gave up their hostages and weapons after negotiators pledged not to have them arrested on the past charges or the abductions.

"I'm happy that it's over," said 35-year-old Josafer Bautista, who was taken with the other freed hostages for a checkup at a hospital in Agusan del Sur's capital of Prosperidad, about 515 miles southeast of Manila.

On southern Basilan island, a new security crisis unfolded early Sunday when about 70 suspected Islamic radicals stormed their way into the provincial jail with a sledgehammer, boltcutters and guns, provincial Vice Gov. Al Rasheed Sakalahul said.

They freed several insurgents, including a rebel commander and another guerrilla accused of involvement in the beheading of 10 marines in a 2007 clash. The jail assault — in which 31 inmates were freed — sparked a brief clash that killed a jail guard and one of the attackers, he said.

Among those who escaped were five militants from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group engaged in peace talks with the government, and 12 from the smaller but more violent Abu Sayyaf group, which has been linked to al-Qaida, said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino, regional military commander.

Philippines deals with crisis after crisis in troubled south 12/13/09 [Last modified: Sunday, December 13, 2009 8:52pm]
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