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Philippines eases offon Islamist kidnappers

THE Philippines pulled about 800 police and militiamen out of a cordon surrounding kidnappers holding three Red Cross workers on a remote southern island yesterday, partially giving in to the Islamist militants' demands.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the government had made a "difficult" decision to abandon positions that would allow the Abu Sayyaf rebels access to the island's coastline but kept about 1,500 other troops posted along an inland highway.

Officials said Puno was hoping the partial agreement to the rebel demand would allow for fresh negotiations for the release of Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba.

"We are giving them a breathing space where they feel they're safe to negotiate," Puno said. "It's a difficult decision and not all agreed to the decision."


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