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Troops near Abu Sayyaf base to withdraw

MANILA (AP) - Officials said they have ordered government troops to withdraw from the vicinity of a stronghold of al-Qaeda-linked militants holding three Red Cross workers in exchange for one of the hostages.

Sulu provincial Gov. Abdusakur Tan said the decision was made today  in hopes of satisfying a demand by the Abu Sayyaf militants on southern Jolo island.

He said a commander holding the hostages -- two Europeans and a Filipino -- had insisted on a complete withdrawal of all government forces from the island.

Tan says about 1,000 soldiers, police and armed civilian volunteers could complete the pullback by late Sunday, giving the militants "almost one-third" of Jolo as room to maneuver.

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