Abus hold on to 3 Red Cross workers

MANILA, Philippines – Islamic militants holding three Red Cross aid workers in the southern province of Sulu have not yet released any of their hostages, despite promises of a pullback from the Philippine military, authorities said Sunday.

Manila announced a military retreat after the Abu Sayyaf threatened to kill the hostages at the end of the month if the army cordon around the rebels was not lifted.

Sulu governor Abdusakur Tan, head of a government task force dealing with the crisis, said he spoke by telephone Sunday with Albader Parad, the spokesman for the kidnappers who had earlier threatened the captives with beheading.

“He said they are not budging, so they are sticking to their original demand,” Tan said.

The gunmen want all government forces to pull back to Jolo island’s provincial capital, effectively yielding the entire Sulu island group and its half a million residents to Abu Sayyaf control.

Tan told ABS-CBN television that he hoped the military pull-back would at least get the kidnappers to negotiate, even if there was no immediate hostage release.

“It is not easy to reposition troops but we are doing this just so that we can get an early release of these hostages or get them [Abu Sayyaf] to sit down and talk to us,” he added.

Senator Richard Gordon, who chairs the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), said Parad promised to him over the phone on Saturday evening that one of the three hostages would be released once the military pulls out its troops.

In a phone interview, Gordon said no timelime was mentioned but the release of the hostage was “contingent on the pullout.”

The government’s decision to withdraw troops came after a dramatic appeal by the head of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, for the lives of Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, 37, Andreas Notter, 38, of Switzerland, and Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62.

The three were snatched on January 15 while on a humanitarian mission.

The Abu Sayyaf, linked by the military to the Al Qaeda network, has been blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks, including kidnappings and bombings.

In a separate interview, Parad told ABS-CBN one captive would be freed if the military showed signs of moving.

“Even if the retreat is not completed within 36 hours, as long as we can see a total pull-out happening, we will turn over one of them,” he said.

Agence France-Presse
With a report from Christine Avendaño
of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

Published in: on March 29, 2009 at 6:55 pm  Comments Off on Abus hold on to 3 Red Cross workers  
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