Gordon: No glory in harming hostages

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, on Tuesday made a last-minute appeal to Abu Sayyaf militants not to harm three Red Cross hostages after the military refused a 2 p.m. deadline to cede control of an entire island to the militants.

“You have to free them…There is no glory in what you are doing,” Gordon said in a press conference at the local Red Cross office in Manila.

Gordon said the International Committee of the Red Cross has worked extensively with all parties to find a peaceful resolution to the ongoing hostage situation.

Shedding tears at one point, he said the entire Red Cross organization is praying for the safe release of kidnapped ICRC staff Mary Jean Lacaba of the Philippines, Andreas Notter of Switzerland and Eugenio Vagni of Italy.

“One death is one death too many,” he said when asked about his opinion if one of the Red Cross workers is beheaded.

Gordon said he talked to several government officials, including Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Armed Forces chief Alexander Yano, to convince them to give in to Abu Sayyaf subleader Albader Parad’s demand for a full military pullout in Sulu province. “As of 5 a.m., they said the military cannot pullout and I made an appeal again, but they said they will not pull out,” he said.

The senator refused to blame the military for failing to pull out of Sulu, saying that he cannot give orders to the country’s security forces. “Hindi kami nakikialam sa military. (We do not meddle with the military). We will not judge them,” he said.

He said Parad has become unreachable as officials tried to contact him for a last minute appeal for the safe release of three ICRC staff. “Earlier, from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. I tried to call them, but they cannot be contacted,” he said.

Abu Sayyaf rebels earlier told negotiators a tactical retreat from parts of Jolo island in the south would not be enough to save the lives of the three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) captives.

The militants seized the ICRC staff in mid-January while they were on a humanitarian mission.

Pope Benedict XVI later Monday urged the militants to free the workers, the Vatican said in a communique.

The pontiff “wants to raise his voice and urge that humanitarian sensibility and reason prevail over violence and intimidation,” the statement said.

“The Holy Father… asks for their release and calls on the authorities to favour a peaceful outcome to the tragic situation,” the communique said.

The rebels’ new demand was relayed late Sunday, just hours after the military and police pulled back from a jungle area where they had cornered some 120 militants and their three hostages, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said.

The pull-back left the rebels in control of five towns and 140 square kilometres of the island, the government said.

But, said Puno, Abu Sayyaf’s council of leaders now wants all security forces to abandon existing bases, leaving the province’s half a million residents “completely unprotected” from the rebels.

“They demanded new repositionings,” Puno said, adding that the military camps have been in Jolo for decades.

He said the rebels had set a 2.00 pm (0600 GMT) deadline on Tuesday for the government to comply, or they would behead one hostage.

Puno said the Abu Sayyaf wants troops restricted in “one small corner” of the island, where they will be highly vulnerable and unable to protect civilians.

“Frankly, we are very disheartened by these new demands that clearly are impossible to meet,” Puno told reporters. “We would like to appeal to the (gunmen) to be reasonable.”

Puno conceded that it appeared that Abu Sayyaf was in control of the situation by toying with their fears.

While the government was prepared to be “humiliated” to keep the hostages safe, Puno said if the Abu Sayyaf harms hostages that would trigger heavy reprisals.

“We just happen to believe that they’re serious and we don’t want the hostages to be harmed, but if they harm one hostage, then the situation will obviously change,” he said.

Jolo governor and head of a crisis committee, Abdusakur Tan, earlier Monday said they were no longer prepared to give any other concessions.

“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 said.

Later in the day, Tan said he spoke to the kidnappers and reported that “they appreciate the pullout of our troops who are close to their position (but)… what they want is a total pullout.”

Vice-governor Anne Sahidula, another government negotiator, said that it was unlikely the kidnappers would extend their deadline.

Asked if she believed they would carry out their threat, she said “from what I have seen, they are used to doing this. It is like human life means nothing to them.”

The Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf is blamed for some of the Philippines’ worst attacks. It has not demanded money for the ICRC hostages, although previous abductions led to millions of dollars in ransom payments.

abs-cbnNEWS.com, with a report from Reuters

Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 3:28 pm  Comments Off on Gordon: No glory in harming hostages  
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