Gunmen in south Philippines kidnap 16, set demands

April 2, 2011 - 0:0

MANILA (AP) – Gunmen linked to a criminal gang have kidnapped 16 people, most of them teachers, from an elementary school graduation ceremony in a remote southern Philippine town, police said Saturday.

The gunmen demanded freedom for their fellow tribesmen who were jailed following an almost identical hostage-taking in the same town in 2009 by suspects wanted for murder and abductions, said regional police chief Reynaldo Rafar.
The assailants in the latest kidnapping are former government militiamen turned bandits who seized the hostages Friday at the graduation ceremony in Prosperidad town in the remote forests of southern Agusan del Sur province in the eastern part of Mindanao Island, Rafar said.
The 14 adults include teachers and education department district officials, but there were also two children aged 10 and 13 in the group, according to Senior Inspector Joel Solon Mendez of the provincial police.
Rafar said the gunmen immediately demanded the release of fellow Manobo tribesmen Ondo Perez and three others who are being held at the Agusan del Sur jail on charges of kidnapping and illegal possession of firearms in connection with the December 2009 hostage-taking, in which 47 villagers were held for several days.
Police sharpshooters were deployed around the area where the hostages were held and negotiations were under way, Rafar said.
The hostages were being kept in one or two houses near other houses owned by hostage takers' relatives, said another police officer, Senior Supt. Nestor Fajura.