Red Cross captives in Sulu cry for help

MANILA, Philippines—The Filipino engineer held captive by Abu Sayyaf bandits in the mountains of Indanan, Sulu, along with her two colleagues in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has pleaded for help to end their suffering.

Mary Jean Lacaba was allowed by her captors to speak on the phone with this reporter on the afternoon of Feb. 25. Her voice was low and trembling, and she spoke in short sentences, in a mix of Filipino and English.

Lacaba relayed the same message over and over again, directed at the government or anyone else working on their release: She and her colleagues need help. They still have no idea what the Abu Sayyaf wants in exchange for their freedom.

“Please tell them, if possible, if they can, to quicken the process. It has become very hard and truly painful. Physically and emotionally, it’s really very, very hard,” she said.

With Andreas Notter of Switzerland and Eugenio Vagni of Italy, Lacaba was abducted by gunmen in Jolo, Sulu, on Jan. 15, just after they finished inspecting water facilities in the Jolo jail.

It was only much later that the Abu Sayyaf bandit group, through Albader Parad, claimed responsibility for the abduction.

No contact

In Geneva where it is based, the ICRC said it had had no direct contact with Notter, Vagni and Lacaba for a week.

Alain Aeschlimann, the head of the ICRC’s Asia-Pacific operations, said the three aid workers were being moved through the jungle and were reportedly suffering ill health.

Aeschlimann quoted a reliable source as saying that the three aid workers had received medical supplies sent to them.

He said the ICRC was appealing to the abductors’ sense of humanity and asking for the swift and unconditional release of Lacaba, Notter and Vagni.

On the phone with this reporter, Lacaba said she did not want to stay a day longer where she and her colleagues were being held.

“It’s really very difficult now. Help us so our suffering will end,” she said, adding that she and Vagni had again been afflicted with diarrhea.

Notter spoke of the same physical and emotional distress in an interview with radio station dzEC/NET-25 on the afternoon of Feb. 17.

No ransom demand

The Abu Sayyaf has yet to make an official ransom demand for the release of the three aid workers.

This was confirmed by Sulu Vice Gov. Lady Anne Sahidullah, who said she had kept her lines open with the Abu Sayyaf after she produced a proof-of-life picture of the captives late in January.

“I did not believe that they do not want ransom until I heard it myself from them. Of course, no one will believe this because we all know what happened in their previous kidnapping cases. This is the first time I heard them say there will be no ransom,” Sahidullah said.

According to the vice governor, the information that the Abu Sayyaf did not want ransom in exchange for the captives’ release came, not from Parad, but from another commander older and more experienced than he.

That commander is known as Dr. Abu, who was a combatant of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) before he joined the ranks of the Abu Sayyaf.

Military pullout first

Pader had been telling not only the three aid workers but also members of the media that there would no negotiation for the captives’ release without a military pullout.

Sahidullah told this reporter that the Sulu provincial crisis committee—which is headed by Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan—was doing its best to negotiate for the peaceful release of the three, or even just one.

She said she had tried to bargain for Lacaba’s release and had come close to convincing the Abu Sayyaf to free the captive as a sign of “goodwill,” but that certain factors intervened in her attempt.

“Even if I knew that they were amenable to releasing Mary Jean to me, it didn’t push through. There were many considerations—an ongoing military operation, the possibility that I might be sabotaged on the way…” she said.

A source from the MNLF told this reporter that a Sulu official had tried to pay P5 million for the freedom of the three captives.

But Sahidullah denied this, saying: “All I know is that [the captors] don’t want to discuss ransom.”

Former MNLF Chair Nur Misuari and his loyal faction in the group was tapped by the Sulu provincial crisis committee to help in the negotiation.

But the Abu Sayyaf through Parad maintained its position: “No negotiation with anyone or any group” without a military pullout. Philippine Daily Inquirer, with an AP report

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Published in: on February 28, 2009 at 2:34 pm  Comments Off on Red Cross captives in Sulu cry for help  
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