Army ready to rescue ICRC hostages

MANILA, Philippines — Troops surrounding Islamic militants in the southern Philippines are preparing to storm the area to rescue three abducted aid workers, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s spokesman said Monday.

The military and the presidential office are waiting for the go-ahead from a local crisis team trying to negotiate for the freedom of the three hostages from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), spokesman Cerge Remonde said.

“The military is ready to move in any time depending on the recommendation of the local crisis committee,” Remonde told reporters.

The ICRC staff — Andreas Notter of Switzerland, Eugenio Vagni of Italy and Filipina Mary-Jean Lacaba — were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf extremists on January 15.

They were seized on the southern island of Jolo while on a humanitarian mission and are believed to be in a jungle area now cordoned off by troops.

The hostages told the local press by mobile phone they had fallen ill and feared for their lives. They have appealed for government negotiators to fast-track efforts to free them.

They said the rebels are demanding that troops pull out from the area, a request the Army has rejected.

The ICRC meanwhile said it had managed to bring in medicine and some supplies to the hostages through local intermediaries. It said it last made contact with them more than a week ago.

Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres on Monday said the kidnappers had not made any “clear demands” although previous Abu Sayyaf kidnappings involved millions of dollars in ransom.

“We are keeping the pressure in the area but we have not yet conducted an actual rescue,” Torres told reporters. “Our troops are there but there has not been any assault. They are on standby.”

“We need to isolate them to prevent them from conducting further atrocities,” he said.

The Abu Sayyaf is on the US government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks, the group is believed to be working closely with Indonesian militants from the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group.

The JI is blamed for the 2002 night club bombings that killed over 200 in Bali, Indonesia.

Agence France-Presse

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 11:57 pm  Comments Off on Army ready to rescue ICRC hostages  
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