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Kidnap gang members shot by soldiers

SOLDIERS in the Philippines have killed two men believed to be members of a kidnap gang holding three teachers on a remote southern island, a navy commander said yesterday.

A total of 11 people, including a nine-year-old boy and three Red Cross workers, have been kidnapped by gangs or Muslim rebel groups on the restive Sulu and Basilan islands in southern Mindanao region.

One captive, a 45-year-old maternity nurse, swam to freedom over the weekend after he slipped away from his guard in Basilan. Marines were on patrol in the interior of Basilan province after the weekend escape when they chanced upon a group of Muslim gunmen believed to be holding the teachers, said Alexander Pama, a navy commander in the south.

"Our troops killed two of the kidnappers and recovered some rifles and grenades," Pama said. More soldiers were sent to pursue the fleeing gang members. Navy gunboats were also sent to prevent them escaping to nearby islands. There was no sighting of the captives, Pama said.

Troops have stepped up patrols in areas where the three teachers and three other captives were believed to be held by kidnappers with links to the largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

On nearby Jolo island, another group of kidnappers with ties to Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic militant group, has been holding three Red Cross workers.

Major-General Juancho Sabban, Marine commander on Jolo, said troops were putting pressure on the kidnappers to free the three and a Chinese-Filipino trader abducted in December.

"Our boys are already at shouting distance from the gunmen holding the Red Cross workers," Sabban said, adding that soldiers would not use force to free the hostages but maintain a close presence to ensure they were not moved around.


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