Sayyaf rejects troop pullout; fate of ICRC hostages hangs

MANILA, Philippines – Al-Qaida-linked militants who have threatened to behead three Red Cross hostages rejected a limited pullout of government forces in exchange for the release of one of the captives, an official said Sunday.

Sulu provincial Gov. Abdusakur Tan said Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad told him by phone Sunday that a limited withdrawal of more than 1,000 marines, police and armed village guards on southern Jolo island was unacceptable, adding the militants will not release any hostages.

“They’re insisting on a total pullout,” Tan told The Associated Press by telephone. “That is their position, and he said they’re not budging.”

The latest development leaves uncertain the fate of three International Committee of the Red Cross workers — an Italian, a Swiss and a Filipino — who were abducted Jan. 15 after inspecting a Jolo jail water project.

Philippine officials have agreed twice to pull back government forces from around an Abu Sayyaf stronghold to give them 130 square kilometers (91 square miles) of hilly jungle to maneuver near the town of Indanan. But Tan said the militants wanted all of Jolo’s troops, police and militiamen to be restricted to just two villages. He called that an impossible demand.

“If we do that, we’ll risk the whole province. There is a risk of anarchy,” Tan said.

Abu Sayyaf militants have given the government until Tuesday to pull back, threatening to behead one hostage. Parad and at least one other Abu Sayyaf commander, Abu Pula, have promised to free one hostage if the military withdraws.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno told reporters in southern Zamboanga city Saturday that officials agreed to pull back troops from Indanan to demonstrate how the government has bent over backwards to ensure the hostages’ safety.

“We hope the people, the whole world will understand that we have done what we could and stretched our patience to the limit,” said Tan, who heads a task force dealing with the hostage crisis.

He repeated a warning that he may consider resorting to force if the hostages are harmed.

Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has pleaded with the militants to free the hostages, saying the three had only been trying to help the needy.

Muslim residents planned a protest later Sunday in Manila to condemn the kidnappings, which they have called “un-Islamic.”

The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 gunmen, is on a U.S. list of terrorist organization for its links with al-Qaida and involvement in kidnappings, beheadings and deadly bomb attacks.

Associated Press

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Published in: on March 29, 2009 at 6:58 pm  Comments Off on Sayyaf rejects troop pullout; fate of ICRC hostages hangs  
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