Govt to pull back troops to save ICRC staff – DILG

MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine official said the government is ready to pull security forces back from a militant jungle stronghold in a last-ditch attempt to save one of three Red Cross hostages threatened with beheading.

In a press conference Friday, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said Philippine marines have withdrawn to their barracks on Jolo island and that the government was considering pulling back police and civilian militiamen from a loose cordon around a guerrilla stronghold.

Puno hoped the pull back will facilitate negotiations for the hostages’ release, adding that it should serve as a show of good faith on the part of the government.

“We’ve always said that both sides take one step of good faith at a time. If we allow them breathing space they may consider the release especially the most sickly,” Puno said.

Being held captive in Sulu since January are Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, all humanitarian workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

But in the same news conference, Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan stressed that the government will never agree to the bandits’ demand that security forces be contained in three small areas in Jolo.

“I believe we have always been reasonable. With or without this kidnapping incident, it is incumbent for government forces to be positioned in the province. Keeping them to the perimeter of the capital town, which is about only four percent of the entire Sulu land area is tantamount to abandoning the people of Sulu,” Tan said.

For his part, Puno said: “We will not surrender Sulu to the capricious demands of a few terrorists. We believe the situation will get worse now not only here but in other parts of the world when terrorists are allowed to dictate what they should or should not do to safeguard its citizens.”

Earlier, Abu Sayyaf militants threatened to behead one of the three Red Cross workers unless troops pull back from the vicinity of their jungle stronghold by Tuesday.

GMANews.TV with a report from AP

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Published in: on March 27, 2009 at 2:38 pm  Comments Off on Govt to pull back troops to save ICRC staff – DILG  
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