Kidnapped American Said to be Ill
Posted August 30, 2000 7:00 a.m. EDT
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) — U.S. officials appealed to Muslim rebels Thursday to release an American they are holding in a southern Philippine jungle, saying he is seriously ill and should be freed immediately on humanitarian grounds.
U.S. officials have talked with Jeffrey Schilling's family and learned the American kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas has serious medical problems and needs regular prescription medicine, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Thomas Skipper.
``From a humanitarian standpoint, he should be released as soon as possible,'' Skipper said. He said he did not know the nature of Schilling's condition.
Abu Sayyaf rebels announced Tuesday they had abducted Schilling, of Oakland, Calif., and threatened to behead him if the United States rejects their demands.
The group, which says it is fighting for an Islamic state in the impoverished southern Philippines, is still holding 18 other hostages on Jolo island after releasing six Westerners this week for a reported $6 million paid by Libya.
The rebel demands, expected to be announced soon, are likely to include the release of several Arab terrorists held in U.S. jails.
Rebel spokesman Abu Sabaya has said the guerrillas are willing to begin negotiations with U.S. Embassy officials, but demanded that representatives of North Korea, China, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Libya take part in the talks.
Philippine officials said that was unlikely. ``I don't think we should involve any other country,'' presidential executive secretary Ronaldo Zamora said.
Shilling's mother, Carol, called local radio station DXRZ from California and appealed to the rebels to release her son and give her a chance to talk to him.
``I would really very much like him to be released and returned home to me safely,'' she said.
The Philippine government, embarrassed by a series of high-profile kidnappings, is considering taking a tougher approach toward the hostage-takers. For now, however, officials have decided to attempt to negotiate before resorting to any military action.
The U.S. State Department has ruled out paying ransom or making any deals with the rebels. Skipper said the policy ``does not preclude us from negotiating. ... What we can offer, I'm not really certain.''
Philippine military officials, however, said they are ready to launch an attack at any time. And several prominent politicians have urged the government to consider taking military action.
``This thing has become a revolving door. There are hostages coming in and hostages getting out,'' Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said. ``I think one of these days we should close that door.''
Schilling is being held by the same hard-line Abu Sayyaf faction that kidnapped about 50 schoolchildren and teachers in March on neighboring Basilan island. The group beheaded two teachers after the United States ignored their demand for the release of Arab terrorists.
Sabaya said rebels believe Schilling is a CIA agent because he introduced himself as a Muslim convert but knew little about Islam. U.S. Consul General John Caulfield called the allegation ``ridiculous.''
Schilling's mother said her son converted to Islam several years ago. He arrived in the Philippines on March 8, and had been living with his Muslim Filipino girlfriend, Ivi V. Osani in southern Zamboanga city.
Osani's mother, Aida Ajijol, said Osani and Sabaya are second cousins and Sabaya had invited the couple to visit the rebel camp.
Abu Sayyaf commander Ghalib Andang, who is holding the 18 other hostages, said he was not involved in Schilling's abduction and it would not affect the expected release of six hostages this weekend, chief government negotiator Robert Aventajado said.