Abus refuse to free hostages

Various groups gather at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila yesterday to demand the immediate release of three Red Cross workers.

Various groups gather at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila yesterday to demand the immediate release of three Red Cross workers.

MANILA, Philippines – Abu Sayyaf bandits refused to release any of the three Red Cross workers kidnapped in Indanan, Sulu, demanding a complete pullout of government troops in exchange for the release of one of the hostages.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan said Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad told him by phone yesterday that a limited withdrawal of more than 1,000 marines, police and armed village guards was unacceptable, adding the militants would not release any hostage.

“They’re insisting on a total pullout. That is their position, and he said they’re not budging,” Tan said.

The latest development leaves uncertain the fate of the three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers – Italian Eugenio Vagni, Swiss Andreas Notter and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba – who were kidnapped last Jan. 15.

Government officials have agreed twice to pull back government forces from around an Abu Sayyaf stronghold to give them 130 square kilometers 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 put the whole province at risk. There is a risk of anarchy,” Tan said.

Abu Sayyaf militants have given the government until tomorrow 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 safety of the hostages.

Jakob Kellenberger, ICRC president, has pleaded with the militants to free the hostages, saying the three had only been trying to help the needy.

Tan, who is also the head of Task Force ICRC, said the repositioning of troops would be completed by Sunday afternoon.

He said the Abu Sayyaf should be reasonable because they are “practically giving up about a third or one fourth of the entire province to them already.”

Palace priority is safety of hostages

Malacañang said the safety of the hostages remains paramount amid criticisms on the move to pull out troops surrounding the Red Cross workers held captive by Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said President Arroyo is closely monitoring the situation and she has given instructions to the local crisis committee to do everything that can be done in order to ensure the safety of the hostages.

He said the Palace would stick to its appeal to lessen public pronouncements on the rescue effort for the sake of the hostages.

“These are sensitive issues when it comes to the ICRC kidnap victims. But we assure our listeners, and the families of the ICRC victims that the government is doing everything it can, and in the consideration of the principle of summum bonum or the highest good for the greater number for this problem,” Remonde told the state-owned dzRB.

“We would just reiterate the policy of the government in this case that first the local crisis management committee is in charge because after all, it knows the area and situation better than anyone else; second, the police and the military take their cue from the crisis committee, third, we ensure the safety of the hostages; and fourth, the continuing efforts of the committee to communicate and negotiate with the kidnappers,” he said.

Remonde called on Mindanaoans to help the government make the southern Philippines a more peaceful place to help uplift its economy and image.

Governor Tan said the limited pull out of troops was completed yesterday.

James Mananghaya, with Paolo Romero, Roel Pareño
and the Associated Press, Philippine Star

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 4:23 am  Comments Off on Abus refuse to free hostages  
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