US seeks release of hostages held in Philippines

MANILA - The United States on Wednesday called for the immediate release of two of its citizens abducted in the Philippines and demanded that the authorities go after the kidnappers.

Police in the Philippines said gunmen snatched Gerfa Lunsmann, 50, her 14-year-old son Kevin and her teenage Filipino nephew on Tuesday at a resort near the southern port of Zamboanga.

US embassy spokeswoman Victoria Long said Washington and Manila were cooperating to secure the safety of the captives, though Filipino police said they had yet to hear from the kidnappers.

"We are aware of reports that two US citizens have been abducted near Zamboanga, and are working with authorities in the Philippines," Long told AFP.

"We remain concerned about their safety and well-being. The United States condemns kidnappings of any kind, and we call for the immediate release of the victims and the prosecution of those responsible."

The Philippines' police chief, Raul Bacalzo, said the authorities had yet to hear from the abductors.

He said Lunsmann was born in the Philippines, gained US citizenship, married a US-based German and bore him the son who was abducted along with her. "Our efforts (are) to locate the possible withdrawal areas of the kidnappers and the victims," Bacalzo said.

He would not confirm local speculation that the Abu Sayyaf, a small militant Islamist group blamed for previous abductions of foreigners as well as deadly bombings, could be behind the latest kidnapping.

"We are still waiting for their demands, so that we will know the exact nature of this," Bacalzo said.

National police operations chief Leocadio Santiago meanwhile brushed off speculation that small units of US military advisers in the area would take part in the search and rescue effort.

"Any speculation that they will join (any search or rescue operation) is just speculation," he said.

The US advisers have been training Filipino forces fighting the Abu Sayyaf but are not allowed to engage in combat, though they can return fire if attacked.