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29 November 2000 - ABS-CBN

Schilling, Ullah still alive -- Palace

MANILA, (ABS-CBN) -- While they may not be in great physical shape, the remaining two hostages kept by the extremist Abu Sayyaf are still alive, Malacañang announced Tuesday.

Press Secretary Ricardo Puno Jr. said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported sighting American Jeffrey Schilling and Filipino Rolando Ullah. He did not however elaborate on the details.

"Their condition is not that great, but they cling to life," Puno said in his daily briefing, adding that the AFP is "pretty optimistic" that it can rescue them soon.

In an interview last week, Schilling, a Muslim convert from Oakland, California, said he is being kept in chains and is losing hope he would be released.

Puno also said the Abu Sayyaf has made "overtures" to go back to the negotiating table, but the military told them that the time for that is over.

"The military is not entertaining any negotiation or ransom. The only option (for the Abu Sayyaf) is to surrender," he said.

Ullah and Schilling are the only remaining hostages in the Abu Sayyaf's hands since President Estrada ordered a military offensive against the group last Sept. 16.

While Ullah was among the 21 persons snatched from the Sipadan island resort last April, Schilling was taken last Aug. 28 and is believed to be a "walk-in" hostage.

The other Sipadan hostages were released in separate groups in exchange for more than $15 million in ransom, hostage negotiators said.

The Abu Sayyaf is the smaller but more radical of two Muslim rebel groups fighting for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

The military, however, considers it a bandit group engaged in ransom kidnappings and attacks against Christians.

The military said at least 183 Abu Sayyaf members have been killed and more than 210 others have surrendered since it launched the rescue operation.

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