Abu Sayyaf urged to fulfill promise, release hostage

MANILA – The Philippine government on Monday called on Islamic militants threatening to behead three Red Cross workers to fulfill their promise to release a hostage after troops withdrew from their jungle stronghold.

There were no immediate signs the gunmen were preparing to hand over any of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hostages they seized on southern Jolo island in January, said provincial governor Abdusakur Tan, who heads the team trying to free the captives.

“We have done everything we could. I don’t know whether we could still give any other concessions, short of giving them the entire island,” Tan told a Philippine radio station.

“We hope and pray they will not carry out their threat by tomorrow,” Tan said.

Albader Parad, the spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf militant group, has said one of the three captives would be beheaded if government forces did not withdraw from the island.

Manila initially rejected the demand, but relented after the ICRC’s president in Geneva made a rare public appeal for cooperation to save the lives of Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, Andreas Notter of Switzerland and Eugenio Vagni of Italy.

Troops retreated from the Abu Sayyaf’s jungle area, effectively leaving five towns on the island of Jolo under the group’s control.

Tan said Parad had told him in a telephone call that he now wants all government forces to be “restricted” to Jolo’s provincial capital, effectively yielding the entire province to the group.

“But we have already pulled a huge number of our forces out from the area where the kidnappers are,” he said, adding that the rebels now have about 140 square kilometers (54 square miles).

“They have said they will behead one of the hostages if we do not comply. We are leaving everything to God and hope they do not carry out the threat,” he said.

Lacaba, Notter and Vagni were seize by Parad’s group while on a humanitarian mission on Jolo island on January 15. The Abu Sayyaf is an Al Qaeda-linked organization blamed for some of the Philippines’ worst attacks.

Agence France-Presse

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 1:15 pm  Comments Off on Abu Sayyaf urged to fulfill promise, release hostage  
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