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Philippines considers demands

PHILIPPINE officials said yesterday that they will consider militants' demands for government troops to pull back from around a jungle stronghold after renewing threats to kill their two remaining Red Cross hostages.

Richard Gordon, who heads the local Red Cross, said Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad has renewed a threat to behead the two hostages ?? Italian Eugenio Vagni and Swiss national Andreas Notter - unless government forces withdraw from around the militants' stronghold on southern Jolo Island.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen freed Filipino Red Cross worker Mary Jean Lacaba on Thursday and demanded that troops withdraw.

Gordon urged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to order the troops to pull back, expressing fears that the militants could resort to beheadings to humiliate the president, who celebrated her 62nd birthday yesterday. Abu Sayyaf militants often choose important dates to mock officials, he said.

The militants beheaded an American tourist in June 2001 as an "Independence Day" gift to Arroyo.


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