Red Cross says hostages still alive

MANILA, Philippines—Three Red Cross workers held hostage by Islamic militants are alive after deadly clashes with security forces trying to rescue them, the Philippine National Red Cross said Wednesday.

However, the organization’s chairman Senator Richard Gordon lashed out at the military for what he said was an ill-conceived operation that had led to the deaths of three soldiers and two militants, without freeing the three hostages.

Gordon said “buckeroos” from the military on the ground should be investigated for an “irresponsible effort to attain glory” leading to the clashes.

Fierce fighting erupted Monday and Tuesday in remote jungle on the southern island of Jolo as security forces came up against members of Abu Sayyaf.

Afterwards, the military said it found tents and other equipment belonging to the kidnapped International Committee of the Red Cross workers — Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni.

“As far as I know they are alive, but tired,” Gordon told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

The military said the Abu Sayyaf commander holding the three had tried to slip through a cordon around a dense jungle area, triggering the clashes, a claim questioned by Gordon.

It said a key militant had been killed in the assault, while several other Abu Sayyaf men were also wounded.

Gordon said he had asked the military to refrain from carrying out any rescue attempt at a time when the rebels were already isolated and talks were ongoing to free the captives.

Gordon said he had spoken by phone late Tuesday with a man who identified himself as Albader Parad, the presumed leader of the kidnappers who had initially been reported killed in the clashes.

He said during the conversation — a recording of which he released to the press — the militant had warned that hostages might be killed or injured in the crossfire if the troops continued to advance.

“If the military will not stop its operation and pull out (of the area), there will be no more negotiations,” Parad could be heard saying.

Parad said his group was “prepared to fight” troops anytime, and taunted the military. “They said I was killed, but here I am still talking.”

Gordon said questions needed to be asked as to why this firefight had taken place.

“The military, this government, has a lot to explain to the families of those who died, to the Red Cross and to our people as to why these incidents were allowed to happen and endangered the lives of all,” he said.

Armed forces deputy chief Lieutenant General Rodrigo Maclang on Wednesday insisted the fighting could not have been avoided because the rebels were trying to flee the area into which they had been corralled.

“We did not leave our positions, we just stayed where we are, they were the ones who wanted to get past us and the encounter did not happen because of our initiative,” he said.

Vagni, Notter and Lacaba have been held since January 15 after being abducted while on a humanitarian mission on the island.

While the Abu Sayyaf group has not made public demands for ransom, local officials trying to secure the release of the hostages have cited a figure of $1 million.

The group is blamed for the 2004 bombing of a passenger ferry that killed over 100 in Manila Bay.

It has kidnapped dozens of foreigners, businessmen and religious workers over the past decade and is on the US government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Agence France-Presse

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Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 11:59 pm  Comments Off on Red Cross says hostages still alive  
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