MNLF integrees allow Sayyaf rebs, 21 hostages to escape


Former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels who are now soldiers have allowed Muslim extremists to drive through a military cordon in Jolo, Sulu with all 21 mostly foreign hostages, a senior police official said yesterday.

The Abu Sayyaf gunmen moved on Monday night from a mountain hideout in Talipao town to the village of Panzol about 20 kilometers away in Patikul town, said the official, who asked not to be named.

The abductors put their hostages on board 16 mini jeeps before 9 p.m. Monday and drove away, the police official said.

It was believed they used mountain paths unmanned by the military which had put up checkpoints in key areas around the extremists' hideout, the official added.

They could have obtained the jeeps through "civilian" contacts, he said.

A military statement earlier yesterday said some of the extremists had slipped through the cordon with three Caucasian hostages on Sunday night.

Details of the breakout were released as the new government negotiator headed for the Abu Sayyaf's jungle camp and special European envoy Javier Solana arrived in Manila to try and end the 16-day hostage crisis.

The cordon around the Abu Sayyaf was mostly manned by former Muslim guerrillas reinforcing government forces in Jolo.

But the members of the now mainstream Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) "did not take appropriate actions or put up resistance against the Abu Sayyaf, allowing the latter to escape from the cordon/dragnet put up by the government forces," a government report said.

A report on the Sunday breakout was sent to the Armed Forces chief Gen. Jose Reyes on Monday night, the military statement said without explaining the delayed dispatch.

The hostages include nationals from Germany, France, Finland, South Africa, Lebanon, Malaysia and the Philippines who were snatched from a Malaysian dive resort on April 23.

'Talk with the rebels'

Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin appealed to the government to negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf for peace in Mindanao.

"Let there be ceasefire," he said. "Let there be recovery of fraternal trust and confidence. Nobody wins in war. Everybody loses and sadly, the innocent people, the women and children, are the ones gravely affected."

Sin made the appeal in a homily during a Mass for Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, the Catholic priest who was tortured and killed by the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Quezon City last night.

The Cardinal told Fr. Rhoel's family that their son is now closer to them as he can always intercede with God and reach the same "heights of heroic sanctity" which he exhibited in his lifetime.

"You have a gem within your circle; and you shared your treasure to us all, especially to the people of Basilan," he said. "God will reward your generosity and selflessness."

Sin said Fr. Rhoel's death reminds us of our sins against unity, our misgivings against peace, and our complacency in espousing values and principles that benefit our brethren.

In the same manner, God is fashioning something out of the pieces brought about by Fr. Rhoel's death and his sacrifice has evoked the same reconciliation in our hearts, he added.

"Now more than ever, our passion for unity is stirred," he said. "Our longing for peace finds impetus, a driving force. Our quest for genuine brotherhood in Mindanao has another model and heroic example."

Sin said that Fr. Rhoel in life and in death has become a "bridge of healing and reconciliation" for Muslim and Christian Filipinos in Mindanao.

"It does not matter whether one is a Christian or a Muslim," he said. "We are all united in the pursuit of genuine peace, justice and development in Mindanao."

Sin said the death of Fr. Rhoel continues to plead for justice, even though forgiveness and reconciliation are Christian yearnings and uncontrollable violence needs to be stopped.

"We are appalled and even angered by the daily occurrence of disturbance in our midst," he said. "But we admit that hatred and revenge are not the solution," he said.

Sin also called on the Catholic faithful to continue their pursuit of peace in Mindanao as they weep and mourn the death of Fr. Rhoel.

"I reiterate my appeal to the government to institute and apply genuine socio-economic reforms in Mindanao," he said. "If there is true progress, if there is equal opportunity to growth and development, if there is respect for human rights and if there is justice, there will be peace."

The Catholic Church mourns the passing of a faithful son and the nation weeps for a man of peace and understanding, but the people know that Fr. Rhoel's death will not be in vain, he added.

"Let us pray for peace," he said. "Let us implore the Almighty for a speedy and non-violent resolution in Mindanao. That is Fr. Rhoel's dream and let that be our dream as well," he said. -

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