Parad calls up Gordon to deny he’s dead

MANILA — Can a dead man talk?

Sen. Richard Gordon, Philippine National Red Cross chair, said he spoke to Albader Parad, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf group holding three international Red Cross workers hostage, at 6 Tuesday night after reports said the latter may have been killed in an encounter with the military.

“He called me up, saying that he’s OK,” said Gordon.

Gordon said Parad told him he had a wound in the shoulder but turned down an offer of medicine.

“We’re just resting, including the Red Cross workers,” Gordon quoted Parad as saying.

A caller who identified himself as Parad also spoke by cell phone to radio-TV talk show host Arlyn de la Cruz to dispute reports that he had been killed. He said he had a “slight wound” in one arm, De la Cruz reported.

“Is there a dead man that talks?” he said, according to De la Cruz. She quoted him as saying that the three hostages were “very tired” and were sleeping on the ground.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said he had received intelligence information that Parad had been killed, but that the report was not “100 percent” certain.

Some 50 Abu Sayyaf bandits, believed to be the core group holding the aid workers, initiated Monday’s clash while attempting to break through a wall of government troops “constricting” their movement within Indanan, Brig. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Civil Relations Office, said.

“They are desperate. They want to get out of the constriction area,” Pangilinan told reporters.

Still, the operation did not signal the start of a “military option” to solve the two-month-old hostage crisis, Pangilinan said.

“The purpose of the operation remains the same: The safe release of the victims. And if you’re asking if this is the military option, no, not yet. We are simply there to drive them to a constriction area to control the situation better,” Pangilinan said.

Keeping pressure on

The military has been “keeping pressure” on the Abu Sayyaf by encircling their location, he said. A military presence was established amid hopes of a negotiation for the release of the hostages.

“It is not a military option yet. We have nothing to worry about. We still have room for the peaceful release of the victims,” Pangilinan said.

The Abu Sayyaf, however, has demanded that the military back out of its stronghold before any negotiations can take place. The government has rejected such demands.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who heads a task force overseeing the hostage crisis, said he had not authorized a military rescue but added troops can open fire if the militants attempt to escape from the jungle area or if Abu Sayyaf gunmen attack.

“Any time they attempt to escape, we’ll engage them,” Tan said. “It’s clear that the Abu Sayyaf is feeling the pressure of the military presence.”

The tell-tale signs were the books and tents.

But by the time government troops reached the Abu Sayyaf camp on Monday, the three kidnapped workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross had disappeared, prompting the ICRC to warn the military to refrain from endangering them.

“Their safety is paramount. We repeat our call that no action should be taken that could put (their lives) in danger,” said Alain Aeschlimann, head of ICRC Southeast Asia-Pacific operations.

Pangilinan said the books and tents had earlier been sent for the ICRC hostages.

“The mere fact that the (materials) were recovered there indicated that the hostages were within the vicinity during that time,” he said.

Pangilinan said the hostages—Andreas Notter of Switzerland, Eugenio Vagni of Italy and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba—were safe.

“They were not hurt or hit,” Pangilinan said, adding that the report came from Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, head of Task Force Comet on Jolo.

Pangilinan said the military had suffered three dead and 19 wounded in two days of fighting. He said that sporadic clashes were continuing in the forested areas between Indanan and Parang towns on Jolo island.

Casualties on the Abu Sayyaf side could not be established. Pangilinan also could not confirm reports that Parad had either been killed or wounded.

“We can only say that Parad is fully neutralized once the body is recovered and submitted to DNA testing,” he said.

The ICRC workers were helping improve water and sanitation facilities at the Jolo prison when they were abducted Jan. 15.

On the ICRC website, Aeschlimann expressed concern at the safety of the three hostages.

“The responsibility for their well-being lies with all those involved in this situation. We do not have any further information at this time about these latest developments. Obviously, we hope that we will be able to speak with our colleagues as soon as possible to know they are OK,” he said.

Aeschlimann said the last time the ICRC received a call from the three was on March 11, their first contact in three weeks.

The ICRC chief said Vagni, Lacaba and Notter were together when they made the phone call.

“They sounded calm and composed, considering the enormous stress caused by this situation,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said fresh fighting Tuesday centered near the village of Tubig Dacula in Indanan. Four Marines were reported wounded in the gun battle.

“So far the encounter is ongoing and we don’t have developments yet,” Allaga said.

Jolo bomb attack

On Monday night, two persons, including a 7-year-old girl, were killed in a bomb attack on an eatery in the village of Walled City in Jolo town.

Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin said the explosion could be a “diversionary tactic.”

US and Philippine officials have offered a reward for the capture or killing of Parad, a young militant who has gained notoriety for alleged involvement in past kidnappings and beheadings.

Last month, Parad acknowledged on television that his group was holding the Red Cross workers.

The Abu Sayyaf has about 400 members and is on a US list of terrorist organizations for its links with the al-Qaida terror network and involvement in kidnappings, bombings and beheadings.

Julie Alipala, Tarra Quismundo and Kristine L. Alave, Philippine Daily Inquirer
With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, Michael Lim Ubac, and Associated Press

Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 1:27 am  Comments Off on Parad calls up Gordon to deny he’s dead  
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