Children among hostages held in Philippines

Gunmen raided an elementary school in the southern Philippines on Thursday, authorities said.

Children among hostages held in Philippines

Gunmen raided an elementary school in the southern Philippines on Thursday and took at least 55 children and teachers hostage, authorities said.

The kidnappings come just after a massacre in a nearby province in which 57 people were killed, raising tensions ahead of presidential elections next year.

The hostages were being held in a mountainous area near Prosperidad town in Agusan del Sur province, officials said.

Police said the gunmen had abducted 75 people but later freed 18 of the victims, including 17 children, while two others escaped.

Authorities described the gunmen as bandits and said there were no demands as yet. Some officials said they could have taken hostages because they were being boxed in by police.

"There are ongoing negotiations headed by the head of the provincial social welfare office," Lino Calingasan, regional police chief, told reporters.

"We're not aware of any motive for the abduction but the armed men had demanded to keep soldiers and police officers out from the area."

Last month, 57 people, including 30 journalists, were killed after they were stopped at a checkpoint in Maguindanao province, also in the southern Philippines, while on their way to file a candidate's nomination for elections next year.

The mass killings led to a crackdown in the southern Philippines and the imposition of martial law in Maguindanao last week.

On Thursday, teachers and students were preparing for the start of classes in Prosperidad when armed Manobo tribesmen took them away to a forested area, Lieutenant-General Raymundo Ferrer said.

"We've sent troops to help rescue the hostages," Ferrer told Reuters. He said the men had been blamed for several robberies and killings in the area.

"We are not aware of any political demands but negotiations are now ongoing to free the hostages that include two forest rangers and some of the parents who were in the school at that time. We're only playing a support role there."




Reuters

Last Mod: 10 Aralık 2009, 16:25
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