Z A M B O A N G A, Philippines, Sept. 1, 2000 -- Muslim rebels who threatened to behead an American man kidnapped in the southern Philippines have demanded $10 million for his release, negotiators said today.
The U.S. State Department, however, has ruled out paying ransom to the Abu Sayyaf rebels for the release of Jeffrey Schilling, 24, of Oakland, Calif., who was abducted Sunday.
Despite their threats to behead Schilling, the rebels pledged not to harm him while negotiations continue. They asked that food and medicine be sent for Schilling, who U.S. officials say has serious health problems.
But an emissary who visited the rebels’ camp on Jolo island reported that Schilling had been tied up after resisting captivity.The report could not be verified.
“You must send today medicine and food because you know this American doesn’t eat cassava,” rebel spokesman Abu Sabaya told newly appointed negotiator Roland Sarmiento. Cassava is a root eaten by poor Filipinos.
The two spoke in a telephone conversation broadcast over the Radio Mindanao Network.
‘One American Worth 10 Europeans’
The Abu Sayyaf group, which says it is fighting for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines, is still holding six other foreigners and 12 Filipinos after freeing six Westerners earlierthis week for a reported $6 million bankrolled by Libya.
Sabaya made the $10 million ransom demand Thursday night, a member of the negotiating team said. He had earlier said that “oneAmerican is worth 10 Europeans” in ransom.
Sabaya did not repeat the $10 million demand today, but asked for the inclusion in the negotiations of Lee Peng Wee, a businessman who helped arrange about $4.5 million in ransom reportedly paid for the earlier release of nine Malaysians.
The request for Lee’s involvement suggests that the rebels plan to follow a similar approach with Schilling’s kidnapping in which aransom would be paid by third parties, allowing the U.S. government to maintain its official no-ransom policy.
Sabaya also repeated a demand that North Korea, China, Iraq,Saudi Arabia and Libya take part in the negotiations — a requestPhilippine Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado called “really out of this world.”
“While we are conducting talks … we will not consider anyviolence against Mr. Schilling,” Sabaya pledged. “But if we loseour patience, then the U.S. will really regret it.”
Philippine negotiators hope the Abu Sayyaf will release the sixWesterners, including two French television journalists, thisweekend.
Schilling is being held by a different Abu Sayyaf factionresponsible for the kidnapping of about 50 schoolchildren andteachers in March on neighboring Basilan island.
The group beheaded two teachers after the United States ignoredthe group’s demand for the release of Arab terrorists, and alsotortured and killed a Catholic priest.
Sabaya said the rebels are “99.9 percent certain” Schilling isa CIA agent because he introduced himself as a Muslim convert but knew little about Islam.
In Oakland, Schilling’s mother, Carol, said her son converted toIslam several years ago and visited the Philippines in March partlybecause of a longtime interest in the region, but stayed after hefell in love with a Muslim woman, Ivi V. Osani.
Osani’s mother, Aida Ajijol, said Osani and rebel spokesmanSabaya are second cousins. Sabaya had invited the couple to visitthe rebels’ camp on Jolo, she said.
Osani said they agreed to go, not realizing that Schilling wouldbe kidnapped.
Presidential press secretary Ricardo Puno said the government isruling out a military assault “at this time.”