ICRC victims safety remains top priority

MANILA, Philippines—The safe recovery of the three abducted International Committee of the Red Cross members remains a top priority in government’s efforts to rescue them, a military spokesman said Monday.

Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, Jr. said operations to hunt down the Abu Sayyaf extremists were of secondary importance in efforts to rescue Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba.

“We are not conducting actual rescue, these are all part of the overall rescue efforts. But as far as purely military operation is concerned, they are just on stand by,” he said.

Offensive rescue operations could not be done without order from the Task Force ICRC, the multi-agency group tasked to resolve the crisis situation, he said.

The Red Cross workers were seized January 15 by the Abu Sayyaf group, led by Albader Parad, while on humanitarian mission in Jolo.

Their abductors have not yet made specific demands and no formal negotiations with the Task Force ICRC have begun, Torres said.

He said the military was not aware if the ICRC has initiated its own negotiation efforts, saying only that the international humanitarian group has been providing medicines and other basic needs of the three.

But Torres ruled out the possibility of a military pullout in Sulu, a demand made by the Moro extremists before negotiations for the release of the aid workers could start.

“We are not pulling out, we want to maintain the pressure against the kidnapers in the hope that they will somehow change their mind and release them without any demand,” Torres said.

“We need to isolate them in a particular area to prevent them from conducting further atrocities outside of this identified area, we don’t want a spillover of their atrocities, we don’t want them to conduct more kidnappings, that is what we are trying to prevent,” he said.

The military has set up several checkpoints in areas where Abu Sayyaf members were believed to be holding their captives, Torres said.

“Our troops are positioned in such a way that we can monitor all ingress and egress in the area,” Torres said.

Katherine Evangelista, INQUIRER.net

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 11:58 pm  Comments Off on ICRC victims safety remains top priority  
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