Abu agrees to free one ICRC worker—report

MANILA, Philippines – Islamic militants holding three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross have agreed to free one of their captives in exchange for the military’s repositioning of its troops to allow the transfer, the chairman of the local Red Cross chapter told Agence France-Presse.

Senator Richard Gordon said he secured the commitment from Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad late Wednesday, prompting him to hold emergency meetings with top defense and military officials.

“I talked to him last night,” Gordon said. “The military is going to re-deploy out of the area so that one of our associates can get out.”

“Soon as they pull out, the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] individual is going to go out,” Gordon said.

But Gordon, who chairs the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), did not say who among Eugenio Vagni of Italy, Andreas Notter of Switzerland, and Mary-Jean Lacaba of the Philippines would be released.

Brigadier General Gaudencio Pangilinan of the Civil Relations Service and designated spokesman for the ICRC issue refused to confirm the AFP report.

The military urged authorities to make “wise and sound decisions” in their efforts to free the three ICRC workers.

“The situation on the ground is becoming more volatile and the authorities in charge of the efforts for the ICRC victims’ safe recovery must make wise and sound decisions,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Ernesto Torres, Jr. said in a statement issued after a series of clashes between government troops and alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

However, Torres did not give suggestions as to what possible decisions might be undertaken by the Task Force ICRC, the multi-agency group headed by Sulu Governor Sakur Tan that had been tasked to facilitate the safe release of the three workers.

Nevertheless, Torres said “the AFP, as policy implementors, shall submit to these decisions made.”

Clashes erupted in the town of Indanan, Sulu on Monday where Parad was reportedly wounded and possibly killed when a small group of bandits attempted to escape the military’s cordon, the Torres said.

The military said that they would verify the real status of Parad after a man claiming to be the Abu Sayyaf leader appeared on television and radio.

The military has rejected a demand to withdraw following two days of deadly clashes.

Marine commandant Lieutenant General Nelson Allaga said the military would maintain its cordon around the dense jungle area on Jolo island where the Abu Sayyaf Group and their hostages were now isolated.

“We have enough men on the ground to block any attempts by the Abu Sayyaf to escape,” Allaga told reporters as he visited wounded soldiers airlifted to a military hospital in Zamboanga City.

The three ICRC staff were seized on January 15 while they were on a humanitarian mission on Jolo.

Gordon said the hostages were alive, but very tired.

He said he had spoken with Parad hours after the clashes Tuesday, and that the militant demanded an immediate withdrawal from the area.

Local media quoted Parad as threatening to behead one of the hostages, but the report could not be verified.

“This is a battle of nerves, let us remember that these are terrorists,” Allaga said, reacting to the alleged threat.

The ICRC issued a statement in Geneva saying that it had “taken note of the direct threats” by the Abu Sayyaf and urged them not to harm the hostages.

Reacting to the reported threat of beheading, the ICRC and PNRC said in a joint statement they were “extremely worried” for the three workers’ safety and appealed to their captors’ “sense of humanity.”

“The ICRC and the Philippine National Red Cross are appealing to the abductors’ sense of humanity and asking them to avoid taking any action that could endanger the lives of Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas,” the statement said.

The Abu Sayyaf, or “bearers of the sword,” is the smallest but most radical of several Islamic militant groups in the south.

It is on the US government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations and is blamed for the Philippines’ worst terror attacks.

It has kidnapped dozens of foreigners over the years and was blamed for the deaths of two Americans seized at a resort in 2001, one of whom was beheaded.

Katherine Evangelista, INQUIRER.net
Kristine Alave, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Agence France-Presse

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Published in: on March 19, 2009 at 3:14 pm  Comments Off on Abu agrees to free one ICRC worker—report  
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