- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — Three severed heads were found last night in an area where Muslim extremists claimed to have killed an American hostage last week. All the victims were believed to be Filipinos.
Lt. Col. Jose Mabanta told reporters the heads were so badly decomposed they would be hard to identify, but that none was that of Guillermo Sobero, 40, of Corona, Calif., who was among 20 persons — including two other Americans — seized from a resort across the Sulu Sea on May 27.
The Abu Sayyaf rebels, who say they are fighting for an Islamic homeland in this mostly Roman Catholic country, earlier beheaded two of their Filipino captives and claimed nine days ago to have decapitated Mr. Sobero. The military says Mr. Sobero probably is dead, but his body has not been found.
On June 6, rebel leader Abu Sabaya claimed to have decapitated three soldiers he captured during a clash that also reportedly injured another American hostage, Martin Burnam, whose wife, Gracia, also is a captive. But the military has claimed it has accounted for all its soldiers, so it was unclear who the victims found last night might be.
Mr. Soberos sister Ana made an emotional radio appeal yesterday, urging the captives to have mercy on him and his children.
"If hes alive, dont hurt him," she said from California on Radio Mindanao Network, a nationally broadcast station to which the rebels have spoken via satellite telephone from the dense jungles where they are holding about two dozen hostages.
"Hes a family man and he has four children who are crying for his return. If hes already dead … please give us information on where his remains are … because my family would like to give them a proper burial here at home, where he belongs," she said to RMN.
The station is based in Zamboanga, a city 20 miles from Basilan Island, where thousands of Philippine soldiers are searching for the captors and captives.
In Manila, the military acknowledged its offensive on Basilan had failed to find the rebels or their hostages for the last five days. But the military also said naval forces were surrounding the island to prevent the guerrillas from fleeing or receiving reinforcements from nearby islands.
"Our forces are not too far from [the rebels]. We expect to make contact with the enemy anytime," said Brig. Gen. Edilderto Adan. On Saturday, he said, soldiers clashed with a small group of Abu Sayyaf rebels on nearby Malawali island in what the military suspected was a diversion.
"It is not true that there is a lull" in the offensive, he said. "Our troops are moving day and night, climbing mountains, crossing rivers. We have not slowed down a bit. In fact, we are intensifying operations."
The military believes all the hostages are still on Basilan and probably have been separated into different groups that move, often at night, to different areas.
Last week, the rebels released three Filipino captives, including a 13-year-old girl. They still are holding some of the 20 persons they took last month from the resort, along with other captives seized from a hospital and a plantation on Basilan.

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