47 hostages freed in Philippines
PROSPERIDAD: Officials say gunmen have freed the 47 hostages they were holding at a southern Philippine jungle hideout, in exchange for a government pledge they will not be arrested for past murder charges.
Vice Governor Santiago Cane of Agusan del Sur province said the hostages left the remote jungle encampment Sunday in Agusan del Sur province aboard two army trucks. The gunmen then surrendered their assault rifles, grenades and ammunition.
Cane said Joebert Perez, leader of the hostage-takers, signed an agreement with government negotiators to free the hostages in exchange for a pledge that he and his men will not be arrested for past murder charges arising from a violent dispute with a rival clan over land.
The hostages are being taken to hospital for a checkup.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
PROSPERIDAD, Philippines (AP) — Gunmen agreed to release 47 hostages Sunday held in a southern Philippine jungle hide-out that is surrounded by troops and snipers.
Joebert Perez, the leader of the hostage-takers, signed an agreement with government negotiators to free the hostages, Vice Governor Santiago Cane of Agusan del Sur province said. Perez is a former government militiaman who turned to banditry.
"It's a done deal," Cane told reporters after negotiations ended at a heavily guarded restaurant in Agusan del Sur's capital Prosperidad.
Government officials traveled with Perez to the hide-out to pick up the hostages.
More than 70 people were taken from a village Thursday. Several children and women were earlier freed, but 47 were still held as of Sunday.
The villagers were abducted by Perez and his cohorts after police attempted to arrest him on a murder charge.
Government negotiators, invoking a law that protects the rights of ethnic groups, agreed to Perez's demand to have his case handled by a tribal court. Police also promised to disarm his rivals, whom Perez has accused of killing some of his relatives over a land dispute, officials said.
The kidnappings were the latest in a series of security crises that have gripped the Philippines volatile south, including a jailbreak by Islamic militants Sunday on the island province of Basilan.