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Kidnapped woman escapes in Philippines

A HOSTAGE escaped barefoot from her al-Qaida-linked captors as they tried to evade a marine offensive that killed three kidnappers in the southern Philippines, officials said yesterday.

The Filipino woman, who was abducted by Abu Sayyaf militants on February 3 on Basilan Island, ran from her captors' jungle hideout late on Saturday and was found by villagers before dawn yesterday in Sumisip township, navy Rear Admiral Alex Pama said.

Lea Laping Patris is the latest of several hostages to escape from the Abu Sayyaf, a small al-Qaida-linked group based in the Philippines.

The group has been weakened by US-backed offensives, but security officials worry that kidnappings for ransom could revive the group and have been cracking down.

At least 13 militants and allied gunmen have been killed and five others captured in the latest offensive, Pama said.

Although exhausted from four months of jungle captivity, Patris sensed that her kidnappers were distracted by a two-day marine offensive that killed three Abu Sayyaf gunmen last Friday in nearby Tipo Tipo township.

Patris, 29, said she tricked her captors after they went to sleep late on Saturday by putting all her belongings on a hammock and her sandals below it, to make it appear she was sound asleep.

She then fled down a jungle trail and walked barefoot into town.

"I can't believe that I have escaped, that this is not a dream," Patris told reporters.

She said the militants did not hurt her, but added she suffered in her first week in the jungle when she was given food only once a day.

Abu Sayyaf militants are still holding at least two fishermen in Basilan, about 5,880 kilometers south of Manila, and an Italian Red Cross worker on Jolo Island.


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