New demand twist deepens hostage crisis

MANILA: Government-armed former militiamen freed 10 more hostages seized in the remote southern Philippines, and

their leader demanded today that murder charges against them be dropped before they release 47 others.

Yesterday’s abductions by 15 gunmen raised new questions over the Philippines’ long-standing policy of arming civilian volunteers to protect against insurgencies. Just a day earlier, 100 other militiamen in the south were named suspects in the killing of 57 people in the country’s worst political massacre, prompting the government to order a review of its security policy.

Hours after the kidnappings, a negotiator persuaded the gunmen to free 17 schoolchildren and an elderly woman among more than 70 people they initially seized. As negotiations resumed today, the gunmen released 10 more — eight women and two men — negotiator Josefina Bajade said.

“There will be another round of negotiations for the remaining hostages,” she said. “We cannot get them all in

one go.” Police said they were trying to arrest two brothers among the gunmen on murder charges. One of the brothers, Joebert Perez, the gang leader who was negotiating with Bajade, met with reporters outside three huts where the hostages were being held.

Perez said the charges against him were fabricated and blamed a rival clan, the Tubays, for the killing of six of his siblings since last year. He demanded that police disarm the enemy clan before the remaining hostages are released.