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Muslim rebels free 6 hostages in Philippines

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MANILA — Muslim rebels today freed four Malaysians out of a group of mostly foreign hostages kidnapped three months ago from a Malaysian resort and taken to the remote, lawless island of Jolo in the southern Philippines.

Later in the day, the Abu Sayyaf rebels also freed two Filipino Christian school teachers they have held since a raid on high schools on the nearby island of Basilan in March.

The separatist rebels have now freed eight captives in the past seven days and negotiators said chances were good that more of the remaining 31 hostages would soon be released.

The four haggard Malaysians, carrying their belongings in cloth sacks, were driven at dawn by intermediaries to a military camp in the main town on Jolo, 600 miles south of Manila.

The four — Lee Hok Liong, Vincent Kwong, Francis Masangkin and Balakrishnan Nair — were then taken by a special flight to Manila and were due to return home later today.

"I will go back to work," said Kwong, a diving instructor at Malaysia's Sipadan island resort, renowned world-wide as a prime diving spot. "I am not afraid. I'm very happy we were released."

Lee is also employed at the resort while the other two are Malaysian Wildlife Department employees.

There was no word on three remaining Malaysian hostages among the 21 people abducted by the rebels from Sipadan on April 23, and brought to guerrilla hideouts on Jolo.

The 21 comprised nine Malaysians, three Germans, two South Africans, two Finns, two French nationals, two Filipinos and a Lebanese. Two Malaysians and a German woman were released earlier.