Gunmen free nine hostages, 48 still captive in Philippines Eds: Releads with release of nine more hostages, adds details
Gunmen on Friday released nine more hostages in a southern Philippine province, but ruled out releasing the remaining 48 captives until murder charges against them were dropped, DPA reported.
The suspects also demanded that authorities disarm a rival group in Agusan Del Sur province, 870 kilometres south of Manila, a local official negotiating for the release of the hostages said.
The suspects seized the hostages on Thursday in San Martin village in Prosperidad town after finding out that police officers were on their way to serve arrest warrants against them.
Major Randolph Cabangbang, a regional military spokesman, said provincial social welfare officer Josephine Bajade was able to secure the freedom of one male and eight female hostages.
Cabangbang said the new release brought to 48 the remaining hostages being held by the 15-member armed group.
Bajade said she was hopeful that the hostage crisis would end soon because the suspects "had no problems surrendering to me once their demands are met."
"Definitely, they are willing to surrender to me, but they want their demands to be met," she told a Manila radio station.
Police said the suspects initially abducted 125 people, but 50 were able to escape immediately. Seventeen schoolchildren and one ill adult were freed Thursday afternoon after negotiations by Bajade.
The gunmen's leader Ondo Perez, demanded that authorities also go after a rival group led by a man named Jun Tubay, who allegedly killed seven of his relatives last year.
The two groups were allegedly involved in a land dispute, Bajade said.
Local authorities sent food to the hostages overnight, said Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner, a military spokesman.
"Many of the hostages had not eaten, so we assume they are getting weak," he said. "The local government had been sending food to them."
Brawner said troops have been dispatched to secure the area where the hostages were being held, but stressed that the priority was the negotiations for their safe release.