WORLD> Asia-Pacific
Filipino troops, rebels unite to free tourist
Updated: 2009-05-31 17:19

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine troops and Muslim rebels worked together in a brief, rare alliance Sunday, forcing a group of kidnappers to abandon a Chinese tourist who was abducted in the country's troubled south, officials said.

Government forces and the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front have engaged in sporadic but fierce clashes since August, when Malaysian-brokered peace talks collapsed. Government officials and the rebels, however, pledged to cooperate to free Afen Ma Wu, said North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacdalan.

The two sides have agreed in the past to fight criminals and terrorists together. They formed a joint committee to oversee those collaborations that still exists despite renewed clashes.

The 10 kidnappers abandoned Wu and fled after troops and Moro rebels blocked their access to a rebel stronghold, Sacdalan said.

The kidnappers - who escaped and were being pursued by troops - belong to a group called Pentagon, which includes former Moro rebels and local gangsters, Sacdalan said.

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Wu, who suffered only some bruises and mosquito bites, was turned over to relatives after a brief medical checkup, Sacdalan said, adding that no ransom was paid.

"We're really happy with this collaboration that led to the victim's safe release without a shot being fired," Sacdalan told The Associated Press.

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said the cooperation showed "that we can still work together side by side with authorities despite the stalled peace process. If the objective is to fight criminality, we can work hand in hand."

The 24-year-old Wu from China's Fujian province was visiting relatives in North Cotabato when two gunmen dragged her into a car Wednesday. The police, backed by army troops, immediately launched a search.

Her abductors tried to bring her to a marshland on the border of Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces where the Moro rebels have a stronghold, but they were blocked by their former comrades. The kidnappers backed off but later ran into army troops positioned along a road, prompting them to abandon Wu, Kabalu said.

The Pentagon group has been blamed for several abductions in recent years in the central region of southern Mindanao Island, where the Moro rebels maintain strongholds. But there has been no indication the crimes were linked to a spike in kidnappings for ransom blamed on the Abu Sayyaf, a smaller but more violent al-Qaida-linked group.