Troops to pull back for one Red Cross hostage

Top security officials agreed with the call of Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), to reposition the military away from the Abu Sayyaf group in an area in Sulu in exchange for one of three hostages.

The decision was reached after a closed-door meeting among Gordon, Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Alexander Yano, and other police and military officials.

The high-level meeting was held in the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame in Quezon City Wednesday night and lasted until early Thursday morning.

Gordon said that the release of one hostage in exchange for the repositioning of military troops is a “gentleman’s agreement” with Albader Parad, the leader of the bandit group holding the three hostages.

The repositioning of troops, Gordon added, would be implemented “as soon as possible” to hasten the release of one hostage. He did not disclose further details on the timing of the release and troop repositioning.

Nur Misuari, founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), would be asked to negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf group for the release of the two hostages, Gordon said.

Parad had threatened to behead one of the hostages if troops did not stop pursuing them, according to Gordon.

Gordon said Parad called him on Wednesday and relayed the threat to behead one of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hostages. Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba have been held on the remote southern island of Jolo since January 15.

Members of the Philippine Marines exchanged gunfire with Abu Sayyaf bandits on Tuesday. The military said up to nine people, including three soldiers, were killed and dozens wounded but it said the fighting was not an attempt to free the hostages.

Failed to rescue?

Misuari said Wednesday that the national government failed to rescue three Red Cross staff because of military offensives in Indanan town in Sulu against the Abu Sayyaf.

“I was trying to convince the military to clear the road where I could pass and talk to Parad on this matter. But while I was in Manila, I learned that there was already a fire fight. There are many ways to solve this problem without violence,” Misuari said.

Misuari insisted there were other ways to rescue the three hostages without having to risk lives, saying he was optimistic that negotiations with the armed bandits could still push through.

Three Marines had been killed in the clash, and 19 other soldiers injured when they encountered almost 100 members of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu Wednesday. Six members of the bandit group had been reported killed by the military.

Parad himself was reported wounded after a bullet hit his foot. Military troops and the ASG have been locked in clashes since early Monday, after the AFP intensified its efforts to rescue the three hostages.

Misuari also said he had initial contacts with Parad before the fire fight early this week. “I kept on saying to Parad, do not shed the blood of the innocent humanitarian workers in our sacred soil (Sulu),” he said.

In an interview with ABS-CBN, Parad said the military was endangering the three hostages’ lives by continuing with its offensives against the group.

“Wala namang kasalanan ang mga hostages, bakit naman pag-iinitan. Sigurado gusto ng military mamatay ang mga tatlo kasi palagi silang lumalapit. Eh paano kung madamay ang mga ito,” Parad said.

Beheadings

The Abu Sayyaf rebels, notorious for kidnappings and linked to the regional Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah, have a history of beheading captives.

In June 2001, American Guillermo Sobero was beheaded by another group of Abu Sayyaf on southern Basilan island after Manila turned down talks to release three U.S. captives.

The Red Cross raised concerns about the safety of its workers after the clashes earlier this week.

The hostages have been held in the Jolo hills since they were abducted after visiting a humanitarian project inside a prison.

Military officials have said the fighting this week, near Indanan town on Jolo, erupted when the kidnappers tried to break out of the military cordon around the area.

The Abu Sayyaf has demanded the withdrawal of the military from their areas in exchange for freeing the captives.

Newspapers have said they have also demanded a ransom, with one estimate put at $1 million. With reports from CECILLE LARDIZABAL, ABS-CBN News; DYBORRHAE JEWEL M. REYES, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga; MANNY MOGATO, Reuters

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Published in: on March 19, 2009 at 6:36 am  Comments Off on Troops to pull back for one Red Cross hostage  
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