In an almost surreal dimension of the standoff, while rebels and government troops square off almost within spitting distance of one another, TV crews and photographers have had access to the hostages, showing images of the 10 captives from Europe, Lebanon, South Africa and Malaysia pleading for the Philippines army to back off and negotiate a solution. That might be difficult, however, since the Abu Sayyaf group holding the hostages hasn't made a clear set of demands, prompting the government's appointed mediator to threaten to withdraw.
The group, which has boasted of links with Osama bin Laden, only a month ago seized some 50 students from schools on the island of Basilian and demanded that Manila secure the release by Washington of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and other convicted terrorists held in U.S. prisons. In this instance, they're assumed to want money, and the Philippines government isn't interested in paying. But the multinational makeup of the hostages has raised the pressure on Manila to do whatever it can to avoid bloodshed. With no solution in sight a week after the latest hostage drama began, and government forces having overrun the Abu Sayyaf base on Basilian (and failed to find the student hostages), obstacles to a peaceful outcome may be mounting.