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Philippine police rescue kidnapped U.S. businessman

By
MICHAEL DI CICCO

MANILA, Philippines -- Crack police stormed several hideouts of a kidnapping gang Wednesday, rescuing an American executive abducted 61 days ago and killing 13 of his suspected communist rebel captors.

Michael Barnes, vice president of an energy firm, was rescued Wednesday afternoon during a raid on a safehouse in a southern Manila suburb, police Col. Roberto Lastimoso said.

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Barnes, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, looked thin and haggard during a police press briefing hours after his rescue. He was bearded and had what appeared to be several mosquito bites on his arms and legs but was apparently unhurt.

The 42-year-old American thanked his rescuers, saying they were 'very brave.'

'I am just very glad to be back safe and sound,' he told reporters at the National Police headquarters at Camp Crame, where he was examined by doctors after his rescue.

Authorities said he would be taken to an undisclosed hospital for further examination.

Barnes, of Long Beach, Calif. was plucked by armed men from a crowded street steps from his office in the Makati financial district early Jan. 17.

Authorities blamed a group connected with communist rebels for the abduction of the vice president of Philippine Geothermal, a subsidiary of the U.S. energy firm, Unocal.

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The New Peoples Army, the mainstream military arm of the 23-year-old communist insurgency, denied involvement.

Police said they found Barnes in chains in one of the rooms of a one- story house they raided Wednesday as part of a massive rescue operation.

Police Lt. Gen. Gerardo Flores said Barnes was blindfolded and when the shooting started, one of the kidnappers pulled him to the side and held a gun to his head.

'Suddenly he was released because the one holding him was hit by our intelligence agents,' Flores said. 'He was grabbed by the friendly troops.'

Four of Barnes captors were killed in the battle at the house, two others were captured. a total of 13 suspects were killed in firefights with authorities during the simultaneous raids on seven safehouses scattered throughout metropolitan Manila, police said.

Flores said a police task force trained for six weeks for the rescue while the kidnappers safehouses were under surveillance.

The rescue operation was praised by President Corazon Aquino and U.S. Ambassador Frank Wisner.

Meanwhile in the southern Philippines, Muslim kidnappers released a 3-year-old Australian girl but continued to hold her mother, sister and two Americans they snatched at gunpoint Tuesday.

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Following negotiations with a local official, the group turned Ellis Cook, 3, over to her father, Steve, late Tuesday night, said military spokesman Col. Tomas Rivera.

Rivera said the kidnappers demanded the equivalent of $78,450 and four rifles in ransom for the four captives, abducted in the Muslim village of Kasanyangan, Jolo town, 600 miles south of Manila.

He said a group of bandits was responsible for the kidnapping and that an undisclosed number of troops were airlifted to the area from Zamboanga, 100 miles northeast of Jolo, to aid a rescue effort.

Officials identified the captives as Australians Lynn Cook, her daughter Cherry, 5, and Americans Tracy Rectanus and Carol Allen.

Rectanus and Allen were reportedly visiting the Cooks and were being taken on a car tour of Jolo when they were abducted.

Officials said three armed men flagged the car down in back of the provincial police headquarters. They forced Steve Cook, a Protestant missionary, from the vehicle and sped off with the women and children.

Allen and Rectanus both worked at a missionary school in Manila, officials said. a spokesman at the school said he didnt know their hometowns. A co-worker said both women were from Virginia.

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Kidnappings by bandits and Muslim seperatists are common in the area around Jolo, one of the most lawless areas of the country.

The military said 401 people, including 25 foreigners, have been kidnapped on the main southern island of Mindanao since 1988. Most were released after large sums of money were paid, but a few have been killed by their abductors.

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