Abus insist on total military pullout

MANILA, Philippines—Time is ticking on a threat by Abu Sayyaf kidnappers to behead three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) held hostage on Jolo Island.

A stalemate ensued Sunday even as the military was set to complete in the afternoon a partial withdrawal of troops ringing Barangay (Village) Kuppong in the Indanan forest, where the hostages were being held since they were abducted on Jan. 15.

The Abu Sayyaf is insisting on its demand for a total pullout of troops or it will decapitate one of the hostages by Tuesday, said Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who called up the group’s leader Albader Parad by phone Sunday morning.

“That is their position, and he said they’re not budging,” Tan said.

The government agreed to withdraw 1,000 Marines, policemen and civilian volunteers from Kuppong, but the kidnappers wanted the troops completely out of the island, Tan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

“I think we are more than bending backward on this move,” said Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

“This is a very, very big, dramatic and important concession being made by the government in order that the kidnapers will not feel threatened, will not be afraid of any offensive action to be taken by any of the forces in the area.”

Puno said the government had hoped that one of the hostages would be released after the pullout from Kuppong.

Tan said Parad told him that the hostages—Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba—were doing fine. The three were abducted while on a mission to improve a water project in the Jolo jail.

Philippine officials have agreed twice to pull back government forces from around the Abu Sayyaf stronghold to give them 130 square kilometers of hilly jungle to maneuver near the town of Indanan.

Impossible demand

But Tan said the kidnappers wanted all of Jolo’s troops, police and militiamen to be restricted to just two villages on the island. He called that an impossible demand.

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

“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 would consider resorting to force if the hostages were harmed.

Jakob Kellenberger, president of the Geneva-based ICRC, has pleaded with the kidnappers to free the hostages, saying the three had only been trying to help the needy.

“It is impossible to understand what the kidnappers could possibly achieve by hurting them. Harming a humanitarian aid worker cannot be justified under any ideology or religious law,” he said.

Parad’s promise

Sen. Richard Gordon said Sunday that he spoke on the phone three times with Parad over the past 24 hours and that he had told him he would keep his promise to release to him or his representative one hostage.

But Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, said that he sensed a change in Parad’s tone in the last phone call the kidnapper had made to him, saying that unless the withdrawal was completed he could not release a hostage.

“Yes, I can see that the military is pulling out, but unless it’s complete, I cannot give in,” Gordon quoted Parad.

Last week, Gordon tangled with the military publicly after gun battles erupted and left three soldiers and two kidnappers dead, prompting the ICRC hostages to complain to him that the soldiers were putting their lives at risk.

Also Sunday, some 500 representatives of the local Red Cross and various Muslim organizations held a two-hour interfaith rally at Manila’s downtown Plaza Miranda in the evening to press demands for the peaceful resolution of the hostage crisis.

Speakers condemned the kidnapping as “un-Islamic.”

Julie Alipala, Christine Avendaño and Erika Sauler
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 6:07 am  Comments Off on Abus insist on total military pullout  
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