Military cuts supplies to ICRC hostage-takers

MANILA, Philippines – The military has cut off supply lines to Islamic extremists who are holding three Red Cross workers hostage in dense jungle in Sulu, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Supporters ferrying food and water for the militants are being turned back by the military which has tightened a cordon around the area where Abu Sayyaf militants are holding the aid workers.

“We are continuing to exert pressure by making sure we cut their lines of supply,” Lieutenant Colonel Edgardo Arevalo said, adding that “according to information we’re receiving, they are running low on supplies.”

He stressed troops would not launch offensive operations against the Abu Sayyaf while negotiations for the hostages’ release go on but would maintain their cordon around the hideout on the southern island of Jolo.

The workers for the International Committee of the Red Cross – Mary Jean Lacaba of the Philippines, Andreas Notter of Switzerland and Italy’s Eugenio Vagni – were seized while on a mission in Jolo on January 15.

Earlier this week, Major General Juancho Sabban, the general leading troops against the Abu Sayyaf was told to go on leave after the local Red Cross chapter chief, Senator Richard Gordon, accused him of jeopardizing efforts to get the hostages released.

Gordon had negotiated for the release of one hostage in return for troops “repositioning” their forces, but this did not take place – allegedly after the military ignored his request to lift the cordon and allow a handover.

Last week, clashes between the soldiers and gunmen left three Marines and two Abu Sayyaf militants dead, and 19 other troops were wounded.

Arevalo said the military is not distracted from efforts to secure the release of the aid workers by the row.

Sabban has gone on a two-week leave to address an anti-terrorism conference on Colombia and the military said this had nothing to do with Gordon’s charges.

“Our personnel on the ground do not want to be distracted by [such] criticisms being hurled against us. The morale of our personnel remains high [and] they continue to remain ready to engage the members of the Abu Sayyaf group. We want to focus all our strength, our attention, our energy to the case at hand,” Arevalo said.

“Kung may batikos, pinag-aaralan namin ito. Kasi kung meron namang punto ang mga criticism or inputs na binibigay sa atin, makikita namin na may punto [If there is criticism, we study it. Because if there is a point to the criticism or inputs that we can use, if we see that there is a point], then we are willing to take [the] heat,” Arevalo said.

“We do not want to get involved [in the Gordon-Sabban controversy]. Let Malacanang and other politicians deal with their fellows,” Arevalo said, referring to the Palace’s call for Gordon not to bash the military.

The Abu Sayyaf is the smallest but most radical of several Islamic militant groups in the southern Philippines. It is blamed for the nation’s worst terror attacks and is on a US government list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Katherine Evangelista,
Agence France-Presse

Published in: on March 24, 2009 at 6:35 pm  Comments Off on Military cuts supplies to ICRC hostage-takers  
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