Page One

Oakland hostage says he is losing hope

The Associated Press
Wednesday November 15, 2000

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — An American held hostage by Muslim rebels for 2 1/2 months in a Philippine jungle said Tuesday he is being kept in chains, has an infection in his leg, and is losing hope he will be released. 

Jeffrey Schilling, a Muslim convert from Oakland, California, said in a radio interview that he was able to survive military bombings and shellings of the rebel group “by the grace of Allah.” 

Schilling, 24, said the Abu Sayyaf rebels holding him traveled at night to escape pursuing military troops. He said no doctors were available to treat his infected leg and he had no more medicines. 

“I am suffering from ulcers, fatigue and depression,” he said. “They force me to walk night and day. They keep me in chains.” 

Schilling said he was becoming “less and less optimistic every day.” 

The interview with the Radio Mindanao Network, conducted by cellular telephone, was Schilling’s first in more than a month. He said the rebels had taken him away from Jolo island, where he was seized after visiting an Abu Sayyaf rebel camp on Aug. 31, and could be in either nearby Tawi-Tawi or Basilan provinces. 

Thousands of troops attacked the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo on Sept. 16 in an attempt to rescue Schilling and 18 other hostages. Seventeen of the captives have either been rescued or escaped, leaving only Schilling and a Filipino, Roland Ulla, still in rebel hands. 

Abu Sabaya, leader of the rebel faction holding Schilling, threatened to kidnap more Americans if the U.S. government does not negotiate for Schilling’s release. 

“If the American government is interested in the release of Mr. Schilling, they should send a negotiator,” he said in the same radio interview. “Otherwise, there will be a big problem for the interests of American citizens in the Philippines because Jeffrey is just the start.” 

The U.S. State Department has said the Philippine government is responsible for negotiating Schilling’s release. 

In a telephone conversation with the U.S. Embassy more than a month ago, Schilling said the rebels were demanding $10 million for his release, officials said. 

Military spokesman Col. Fredesvindo Covarrubias said the military believes the rebels are still holding Schilling on Jolo. “We have reports that Sabaya’s group and the American are still in the province,” he said. “The rebels are moving from one place to another to avoid detection by the military.” 

Ulla, the longest-held hostage, was seized in April along with 20 other tourists and workers from the Malaysian resort of Sipadan and brought to Jolo, about 950 kilometers (595 miles) south of Manila. The rebels later abducted scores of other hostages. 

The other Sipadan hostages were released in separate groups in exchange for more than $15 million in ransom, hostage negotiators said.