Talks have broken down–Gordon

MANILA, Philippines – Negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf to free international Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aid workers – Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba – now hang in the balance after contact broke down on Thursday.

“The government is not moving (or) talking (with the Abu Sayyaf). Malacañang has done nothing. They’re leaving it to somebody who is reckless and irresponsible,” said Senator Richard Gordon in an interview Saturday with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.

Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, accused Brigadier General Juancho Sabban, head of the southwestern Mindanao-based Task Force Comet, of subverting efforts for the safe release of one of the three aid workers held hostage for over two months now by the Abu Sayyaf.

Contacted by phone, Gordon said he had stopped talking with Albader Parad, leader of the Abu Sayyaf group holding the aid workers in Jolo, Sulu.

The senator added that Parad’s group was also not negotiating with any member of the crisis committee headed by Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, or any government or military official.

Asked who or what precipitated the collapse of the talks, Gordon replied: “I don’t know. You ask them (military officials).”

Gordon blamed the collapse of the talks on the “unprovoked attack” by government troops on the Abu Sayyaf lair in Jolo on Monday.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was the irresponsible attack on Monday, where they strutted like peacocks. They claimed that they had killed Albader Parad, conveniently forgetting the (retaliatory) action from the Abu Sayyaf – threatening to cut off the heads of the aid workers.”

“At least, I was able to stop the execution of the hostages,” Gordon said.

“(Would the) hostages still be alive if I did not intervene? We have proof of life. Now they are not being shot, they’re safe at the moment. The safety of the hostages as well as all the soldiers is paramount,” said the senator.

Who’s in control?

Gordon said he was “frustrated.”

“We were blindsided. Nobody is in control of the operations. We don’t know who to go to. The military is not in control,” he said.

For negotiations to resume, he advised the Armed Forces of the Philippines to “send somebody who is not reckless.”

A “cowboy or a John Wayne” should not be sent to start an unnecessary war, said Gordon.

Based on a gentleman’s agreement between Parad and Gordon, the military was supposed to pull back at the same time that the Abu Sayyaf was to release one of the captives.

With Gordon directly talking with Parad, the plan was endorsed by AFP Chief of Staff General Alexander Yano, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno during a three-hour command conference with Gordon at Camp Crame in Quezon City on Wednesday night.

But Sabban, unknown to Gordon, prematurely withdrew his troops on Thursday.

Gordon blamed Sabban and other unnamed local officials for the scuttling of the talks.

Series of missteps

“(Sabban) has no equanimity in his duties, and he thinks that war is the solution to all things,” said the senator.

Gordon blamed Sabban for a series of “preemptive actions.”

One, he said, was when Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari was scheduled to go to the Abu Sayyaf lair from March 18 to 30 to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the kidnapping.

But Sabban’s troops attacked the Abu Sayyaf lair on Monday, killing three Marines and wounding 19 soldiers.

Gordon said there was also a “sniper attack” on Parad, prompting Parad to issue a threat in a radio interview that he would behead a hostage if the military troops refused to pull back.

The last straw occurred when Sabban prematurely withdrew his troops on Thursday without informing higher authorities, thus preempting the release of a hostage.

Gordon accused Sabban of “reckless disregard for the safety of the hostages.”

“I don’t know if he had clearance to order the attack. Who ordered the attack? We must investigate that.”

Gordon said Parad was now asking the military to pull back further which was tantamount to pulling out two-thirds of the government troops on the island, virtually giving the rebel group effective control of Jolo.

“I noticed that (Sabban) has always preempted (my moves),” said Gordon.

The Inquirer was unable to contact Sabban as of press time.

Michael Lim Ubac, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Published in: on March 22, 2009 at 7:17 am  Comments Off on Talks have broken down–Gordon  
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