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04 December 2000 - ABS-CBN

Schilling roaming in Jolo?

SULU, (ABS-CBN) -- The military is closely investigating intelligence reports that supposed Abu Sayyaf captive American Jeffrey Schilling has been recently spotted roaming around in Jolo, Sulu.

Intelligence reports in Camp Aguinaldo said Schilling was seen in Jolo last Tuesday without any armed escort, bolstering earlier suspicions that the Afro-American national may indeed be a willing victim of the terrorist group.

The report, however, failed to indicate what Schilling was doing in the Sulu capital.

"We have no verified information on his (Schilling's) supposed sighting but our agents are still on it," said a military intelligence official.

One of two remaining capitives, Schilling is believed to be under the Abu Sayyaf faction of Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Sabaya, the outspoken spokeperson of the terrorist group.

The other captive is Filipino Rolando Ullah, the remnant of the 21 mostly foreign hostages taken from Sipadan, Sabah, Malaysia last April 23.

Schilling's abduction in late August was widely perceived as a gimmick of the bandit group following reports that prior to the "kidnapping," the burly American was reportedly negotiating the sale of sophisticated weapons to the Abu Sayyaf.

The suspicion further heightened after it was learned that Schilling's girlfriend is a cousin of Sabaya, whose group was behind the abduction of 31 schoolchildren, teachers and a Roman Catholic priest in Basilan last March 20.

Sabaya's group later fled to Jolo when the military launched its rescue operations on September 16. A total of 203 rebels have been killed, 173 captured and 260 surrendered since the start of military operations last September.

On the other hand, 12 soldiers and civilian volunteers have died with 53 others wounded amid various encounters with the rebel group.

A total of 719 rebel firearms have either been recovered or destroyed by pursuing government forces.

The extremist Abu Sayyaf group will not be covered by the military's suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) that will start on December 1 in Mindanao, Malacañang stressed Friday.

Abu Sayyaf not covered by ceasefire
Earlier, Secretary Orlando Mercado of the Department of National Defense (DND) said the military's suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) against Mindanao rebel groups does not cover the extremist Abu Sayyaf group.

Mercado said the SOMO only covers the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"Ang Abu Sayyaf di kasama sa SOMO, MILF lang. Tuloy ang operations laban sa Abu Sayyaf (Only the MILF, and not the Abu Sayyaf, will be covered by the SOMO. Our operations against the Abu Sayyaf will continue)," Mercado said in a radio interview.

He said pursuit operations are continuing against Abu Sayyaf extremists still holding American national Jeffrey Schilling and Filipino Roland Ullah.

"Siguro hopefully before the end of the year matatapos na ito (Hopefully, we can finally close this chapter on the hostage incident before the year ends)," Mercado said.

In the meantime, Mercado said the government continues to conduct back-channel talks with the MILF to woo it back to the negotiating table.

He said the government panel headed by Ret. Gen. Edgardo Batenga has reported "encouraging" signs about the chances of the MILF resuming the stalled peace talks.

"Mukhang maganda-ganda bagama't mahirap pa. Meron tayong cessation of offensive military operations starting Dec. 1 hanggang pagkatapos ng Bagong Taon (The efforts seem encouraging though it will not be easy. But we have a SOMO starting Dec. 1 until after New Year)," he said.

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