Birdwatchers kidnapped in Philippines
Zamboanga City - Around 5 000 troops were sent to search for two European birdwatchers abducted in the southern Philippines, a provincial official said on Saturday.
Elwold Horn, 52, from Holland and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, 47, of Switzerland were kidnapped on February 1 while on a small boat off the island town of Panglima Sugala in Tawi-Tawi province, 1 050 kilometres south of Manila.
A Filipino guide abducted with them escaped by jumping off the boat, fearing that they would be taken to nearby Jolo Island, a stronghold of Muslim militants notorious for kidnapping foreigners for ransom.
But provincial governor Sadikul Sahali said authorities believe that Horn and Vinciguerra were still in Tawi-Tawi. Soldiers were searching for them in more than 3 000 hectares of forest.
"The mission is to make sure that every part (of the forest) is inspected," he told a local TV station in nearby Zamboanga City.
Sahali said embassy officials from the hostages' countries were monitoring the search operation.
"They are very much worried about the safety of the two hostages," he said.
No group had claimed responsibility for the abduction, but Muslim Abu Sayyaf rebels have been responsible for previous kidnappings of foreigners in the area.
The rebels are suspected of holding captive a 56-year-old Australian man abducted on December 5. A $2m ransom has been demanded for his safe release.