Sayyaf reneges on deal to release ICRC volunteer

MANILA, Philippines – Al-Qaeda-linked militants reneged on an agreement to free one of three Red Cross hostages, demanding a larger military pullout from their southern Philippine stronghold than the original deal specified, Sen. Richard Gordon, who also heads the Philippine National Red Cross, said Saturday.

Gordon said no hostage had been released by Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad despite the withdrawal of troops on Thursday from an area close to the militants’ position near Indanan town on Jolo island.

Clashes in the area earlier in the week killed three Marines and seven militants.

Gordon said he spoke with Parad late Wednesday by cell phone and persuaded him to release a hostage if troops pull back from the area, which has been surrounded by marines and armed village guards for weeks.

Gordon said “Albader is now asking for two-thirds” of Jolo – a larger portion of the island than originally agreed upon. The Abu Sayyaf have been holding the Red Cross workers – Swiss Andreas Notter, Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, and Italian Eugenio Vagni – on Jolo since January.

He said Parad also wanted the pullout of the armed barangay guards, which was not covered by the original agreement.

Such a major pullout is likely to be rejected by officials and the military, which has been trying for years to crush the Abu Sayyaf, Gordon said.

The group has about 400 gunmen and is on the US list of terrorist groups for its links to al-Qaida and involvement in kidnappings, beheadings, and bombings.

Gordon said both sides would rest for two or three days” before further talks.

He said the troops returned to their camp Thursday after Parad threatened to kill the hostages if the military launched a new attack on his group following clashes with the Marines Monday and Tuesday. Three Marines and seven militants, including a commander, were killed and 19 other Marines were wounded.

The three hostages were not hurt but were shaken, Gordon said.

Despite the setback, he believes the move to withdraw the troops has saved the lives of the hostages and allowed officials to obtain new “proof of life.”

He said he was able to speak to the hostages by phone Thursday and tried to boost their spirits.

The military has reported no fresh clashes Saturday.

Associated Press

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Published in: on March 21, 2009 at 10:47 pm  Comments Off on Sayyaf reneges on deal to release ICRC volunteer  
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