Gunmen seize at least 75 hostages in Philippines

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Philippine military said today that gunmen have seized at least 75 people, most of them schoolchildren, after a raid on a remote elementary school in the southern Philippines.

Military officials said that about fifteen gunmen from the Manobo tribe abducted some of the residents of a village on the Mindanao island on Thursday.

The group, reportedly armed with M-14 and M-16 rifles, captured four teachers and the school principal of the New Maasim Elementary School, and an unknown number of students. Police said that fifteen of children were later released. The seizure occurred shortly after the flag ceremony, when they were due to start classes. Two foresters for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were also taken hostage.

Negotiations are being made to release the captives, according to a local police chief. "Negotiations are ongoing. We are trying to find out how the others can be released," said Lino Calingasan to the Reuters news agency.

Local police have filed charges against the suspected kidnappers, however, they reported that the gunmen didn't seem to want to hurt or kill the hostages. Officials said that the gunmen appear to be using them as human shields to escape.

The southern Philippines suffers from frequent banditry, loosely supervised government-armed militias, and Muslim and communist insurgents. Last month, 57 people in an election convoy were massacred in the southern part of the Maguindanao province, which has since been placed under martial law.