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Gunmen hold 55, mostly children

Armed mountain tribesmen raided an elementary school in the southern Philippines on Thursday and took at least 55 children and teachers hostage, authorities said.

world Updated: Dec 11, 2009 01:07 IST

Armed mountain tribesmen raided an elementary school in the southern Philippines on Thursday and took at least 55 children and teachers hostage, authorities said.

The kidnappings come just after a massacre in a nearby province in which 57 people were killed, raising tensions ahead of presidential elections next year.

The hostages were being held in a mountainous area near Prosperidad town in Agusan del Sur province, officials said.

Police said the gunmen had abducted 75 people but later freed 18 of the victims, including 17 children, while two others escaped.

Authorities described the gunmen as bandits and said there were no demands as yet. Some officials said they could have taken hostages because they were being boxed in by police. “There are ongoing negotiations headed by the head of the provincial social welfare office,” Lino Calingasan, regional police chief, told reporters. “We’re not aware of any motive for the abduction but the armed men had demanded to keep soldiers and police officers out from the area.”

Last month, 57 people, including 30 journalists, were killed after they were stopped at a checkpoint in Maguindanao province.