Televangelists 'provoked near shoot-out'


Jolo, Philippines - Filipino Muslim guerrillas in the southern Philippines almost shot it out among themselves when one faction wanted to kill 13 Christian preachers among their captives, intelligence sources said here on Wednesday.

The televangelists from the Jesus Miracle Crusade entered the Abu Sayyaf rebel camp on the southern island of Jolo Saturday supposedly to pray over 20 mostly foreign hostages.

The military says the group, led by flamboyant television evangelist Wilde Almeda, are also now being held hostage.

The original hostages from seven nations were seized by the Abu Sayyaf from a Malaysian resort on April 23. A German journalist covering the hostage crisis, Andreas Lorenz, 48, has also been detained by the guerrillas.

The near shootout among the rebels on Tuesday has further heightened tensions in Jolo, authorities said.

According to sources, followers of one Abu Sayyaf leader, Radulan Sajiron, confronted two other rebel leaders, Galib Andang and Mujib Susukan, in their camp in Bandang town on Tuesday over the fate of the 13 preachers.

Sajiron's group demanded Andang and Susukan turn over the preachers for "liquidation," sparking a heated argument between the factions, with members pointing guns at each other, a security intelligence source said.

The Sajiron followers were later calmed, but their anger at the Christians will likely complicate any attempt to get the preachers out of the rebel camp, sources said.

Sajiron, who has just one arm, is a veteran guerrilla fighter, and his followers are known to be more fanatical than those of the other factions.

Meanwhile, a military bulletin in Zamboanga City said Andang and Susukan's group were seeking a seven million peso (about R1,09-million) ransom for the release of the Christian preachers.

Almeda's group paid $3 000 (about R20 325) and 35 sacks of rice to the Abu Sayyaf to enter their camp outside this capital town of Jolo, the military said.

The guerrillas are now demanding more money as an "exit payment," the military bulletin said.

Andang and Susukan have relayed the demand to a member of the Jesus Miracle Crusade who was left in Jolo town so that he could gather the money for his fellow members, the military report said.

Andang previously denied he was holding the preachers, saying the Christian group was voluntarily staying in the Abu Sayyaf camp for a 40-day fast.

The detention of the preachers and the German journalist Lorenz has complicated the prolonged hostage crisis in Jolo island where the 20 Malaysian, German, Filipino, French, Finn, South African and Lebanese hostages have been held since their abduction from the Malaysian resort.

The Abu Sayyaf, a coalition of various armed groups who style themselves as independence fighters, have made political demands as well as a ransom demand of $1-million for each of the 20 hostages.

The fate of the 20 hostages remains unknown. A government emissary who brought supplies for the Westerners in the group on Tuesday was not allowed to see them.

There has been no report so far of any ransom demand for Lorenz.

A company of policemen are in the area where the German is believed to be being held by two Abu Sayyaf leaders, but they are keeping away from the camp to avoid alarming the kidnappers, sources said. - Sapa-AFP


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