Freed hostage says rebels in Philippines raped women captives

TRIPOLI, Libya - Four European hostages freed by rebels in the Philippines reached the Libyan capital Monday, with one saying they were powerless to prevent their captors from raping some of the female hostages.

Risto Vahanen of Finland was one of four former captives - which included a German, a Frenchman, and a second Finn - who arrived in Tripoli after Libya reportedly paid a $1 million each to free them.

Vahannen, held for 140 days by the Abu Syyaf rebels, told Finnish MTV3 that other hostages couldn't do anything to help the women being abused by the rebels.

''Some, a few, women there were treated in an inappropriate manner,'' Vahanen said, and answered ''yes'' when asked if they had been raped.

He said the raped women did not want their names disclosed but wanted the incidents made public ''so that the world would know what Robot had done,'' Vahanen said, referring to rebel leader Ghalib ''Robot'' Andang.

''It was quite surprising because otherwise we were treated in a proper way,'' he said in the interview before leaving the Philippines on Monday.

His group of four were freed Saturday - and they are nearly the last of a group of 21 hostages kidnapped April 23 from a Malaysian diving resort.

One Filipino resort worker remains in captivity from the group taken in April.

Also still held by the Abu Sayyaf rebels are two French journalists seized when they visited the rebels' camp.

The guerrillas are also holding 12 Filipino Christian evangelists and three Malaysian men kidnapped Sunday near the Malaysian diving resort, where the hostage crisis began.

Another faction is holding American Jeffrey Schilling.

The Libyan official who negotiated the latest release, Rajab Azzarouq, said he expects the two French journalists would be freed ''Friday or Saturday once the situation stabilizes so they shouldn't be in danger'' - an allusion to fighting among the Abu Sayyaf factions reportedly over the division of the ransom money.

But Azzarouq made clear that Libya would not try to negotiate the release of Schilling, 24, of Oakland, Calif., who was captured when he visited the rebels' camp.

Azzarouq said the Philippines, not Libya, must deal with Schilling's case. ''The American hostage is a willing hostage. He went on his own there against the advice of his government not to go to that place,'' he said.

Azzarouq, first to appear at the door of the aircraft which brought the former hostages to Tripoli, paused and triumphantly waved to dozens of well-wishers on the tarmac.

The hostages followed, carrying bouquets of flowers, and they praised Libya for securing their freedom.

''I think they have done a really great job,'' Vahanen said. ''It may be possible that they've saved our lives.''

Muslim Libya has long-standing ties with Muslim rebels in the mostly Catholic Philippines.

Besides negotiating in previous kidnappings, it has helped build schools and mosques in the south, But it has has been accused of training members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the larger Muslim rebel group, which like the smaller Abu Sayyaf claims it is fighting to establish an Islamic homeland in the south.

Despite the concerns that the ransoms would encourage demands for bigger ransoms, Libya was reaping diplomatic rewards for its efforts.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja headed to the north African nation to participate in a welcome ceremony for the hostages scheduled Tuesday.

France and Germany were sending lower-ranking officials from their foreign ministries, though diplomats in Tripoli said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, in New York on Monday for U.N. meetings, would try to reach Tripoli in time for Tuesday's ceremony.

A similar ceremony held for six former hostages released last month was an anti-American affair, held at the ruins of the house where Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's adopted daughter was killed in a 1986 U.S. bombing.

Long accused of sponsoring terrorism and meddling in the affairs of other countries, Libya is working to end years of international isolation.

International sanctions were suspended last year when Libya handed over for trial in the West two of its government officials accused in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.


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