Philippine Muslim Rebels Claim Spokesman Is
(AP)--Muslim rebels holding an American and a Filipino hostage in the southern Philippines
claimed Friday their spokesman had apparently been killed in a boat accident.
But police and military
officials said they doubted the claim and said it might be an attempt by the Abu Sayyaf
rebels to reduce the pressure of a government military offensive.
A rebel official, Abu Cantada,
said a boat carrying a group of guerrillas capsized Thursday night off southern Jolo
island after battling huge waves caused by a tropical storm.
Rebel spokesman Abu Sabaya, who
heads the guerrilla faction that has been holding American hostage Jeffrey Schilling,
wasn't found after the accident, Cantada said.
"We were on our way to
Tawi-Tawi province ... when we encountered huge waves and strong winds. The boat capsized
and everybody was accounted for except Abu Sabaya," Cantada said in a telephone
interview with the Radio Mindanao Network.
Cantada said Schilling wasn't
with them and that he is now in the custody of rebel chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani in an
Provincial police chief Candido
Casimiro said police were still checking the report.
"So far, we don't have any
confirmation of this, but we are checking all reports. Meanwhile, government operations
against the Abu Sayyaf are still going on," he said.
The military's Southern Command
said it also was checking the report.
"We have intensified the
offensive operation against the rebels, and the government rescue efforts to get Schilling
are also ongoing," Southern Command spokesman Army Col. Hilario Atendido said.
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