Armed tribesmen who kidnapped 15 people, mostly teachers, in the southern Philippines sent two of the captives Sunday to get food and water and threatened to harm the remaining hostages if they did not return, police said.
On Friday, five Manobo tribesmen abducted the 15 people, who were walking along a road from graduation ceremonies at three schools, and took them at gunpoint to a forested area of Prosperidad town in southeastern Agusan del Sur province, officials said.
It is the latest hostage crisis to grip the Philippines in recent years. A hostage-taking of a busload of Hong Kong tourists in Manila last August ended in disaster with the death of eight of the captives, angering China. The kidnapper _ a dismissed policeman who wanted his job back _ was shot to death by police commandos.
The hostage-takers in Agusan, about 515 miles (830 kilometers) southeast of Manila, allowed two men _ a teacher and a regional education department official _ to travel on a motorcycle to get food, water and medicine for the gunmen and their captives, police Senior Superintendent Nestor Fajura said.
"They threatened to harm the remaining hostages if the two will not return," Fajura told The Associated Press. "We've assured them the two will be back."
Prosperidad Mayor Albin Magdamit, however, said a crisis committee which he heads later decided not to send back the two men for their safety. He said the hostage-takers were told by phone that their relatives had been asked to deliver the food to their jungle hide-out.
In return, officials appealed to the hostage-takers to free two children _ a boy and a girl, who was stricken with fever, Magdamit said.
Government emissaries on Saturday delivered food and water to an abandoned hut near the area where the gunmen were supposed to be holding their hostages. The gunmen, however, claimed they failed to find the food, police said.
Police sharpshooters and army troops have been deployed near the area, regional police Chief Reynaldo Rafal said, adding the hostage-takers were armed with an M16 rifle, a shotgun and a pistol.
The hostages were detained in a house in a forested area and had not been harmed by the gunmen, Magdamit quoted the two freed men as saying. The men also said there were 15 hostages, not 16 as reported earlier by police.
The gunmen have demanded the release of tribal leader Jobert "Ondo" Perez, who was jailed for taking 79 people hostage in 2009 over a long-running clan feud in Agusan. Officials asked a local court to temporarily release Perez, who later appealed to the gunmen by phone to peacefully end the hostage-taking, Rafal said.
"This is tragic because these are lowly paid teachers who are being held," Magdamit told The AP.
Hours before the two hostages were released to get food, a government negotiator traveled to meet the gunmen but failed to find them. However, the hostage-takers, led by a man identified as Ken-ken Perez, remained reachable by phone, police said.
The Aug. 23 hostage crisis in Manila ended with police and the gunman opening fire, leaving eight Hong Kong hostages and the assailant dead and drawing international criticism for the bungled police rescue.
"We learned many lessons from that incident," Rafal said. "We've taken steps to avoid a repeat."
The four-day hostage crisis in 2009 in Agusan ended peacefully after Manobo tribal elders convinced Jobert Perez and several of his relatives to free their captives. Ken-ken Perez was involved in that hostage-taking but was released because he was a minor, officials said.
Jobert Perez and three other gunmen were jailed, angering his relatives who thought they would be let free in exchange for releasing the captives.
Clan feuds, fueled by weak law enforcement in remote regions awash with illegal firearms, have often erupted into deadly clashes, kidnappings and hostage-takings in the southern Philippines. The violence underscores the complexity of security problems in the south, where troops have been battling Muslim and communist insurgents, along with al-Qaida-linked militants, for years.
Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.