Pope, ICRC head appeals to Abu Sayyaf

MANILA, Philippines – Hours before the Abu Sayyaf Group is set to behead one of its three Red Cross captives, Pope Benedict XVI and the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made an appeal for their release.

“The Holy Father, in the name of God, asks their liberation and begs the authorities to favor ever peaceful solution of this dramatic episode,” Monsignor Pepe Quitorio read from a copy of the Pope’s statement that was sent to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger renewed his appeal to the extremist group to free Filipino Mary-Jean Lacaba, Italian Eugenio Vagni, and Swiss Andreas Notter who were kidnapped January 15.

Quiotorio, the CBCP spokesman, said the Pope sent the appeal Tuesday morning, before the 2 p.m. deadline of the Abu Sayyaf for troops to pull out from Sulu would lapse.

“The Holy Father, making his own the concern of the families and of those who have at the heart the safety of the 3 humanitarian workers of the Red Cross kidnapped on the island of Jolo, wishes to raise his voice and to make an appeal that humanitarian feeling and reason might have the upper hand over violence and intimidation,” Quiotorio read.

Quitorio said the CBCP was one with the Pope’s appeal.

“Our message to Abu Sayyaf is: please spare and release Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas,” said the ICRC’s president in a statement posted on the ICRC website early Tuesday.

“All they were doing was helping people in need in your area. There is no ideology or religious law that could justify killing them,” Kellenberger said.

The Islamic militant group and Philippine troops were still locked in a tense stand-off Tuesday.

Abu Sayyaf militants had demanded that government should withdraw all its troops from five towns on the southern island of Jolo or they would behead one hostage.

But government has said the demand was impossible, stressing it has already completed a tactical retreat as earlier demanded from a sprawling jungle area where the Abu Sayyaf have held the three ICRC workers since January 15.

Agreeing to the move would mean that government forces would be restricted to a small area near Jolo’s capital, leaving them and the island’s half a million population highly vulnerable to further attacks, the government said.

Members of the crisis management team working to free the hostages were not answering calls early Tuesday.

Radio reports quoting official sources however said that the team’s head, Jolo governor Abdusakur Tan, held a dawn meeting with military officers to prepare for any eventuality.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno on Monday flatly rejected the Abu Sayyaf’s demand, calling it “impossible.” He said that while troops had been pulled back from their initial positions, they remained capable of launching an assault.

“There is no way. It is impossible to comply,” with their demand, Puno said. “If they harm one hostage, the situation will obviously change. If you behead one hostage, it’s like you beheaded all three already.”

Founded in the 1990s by Afghan-trained firebrand Abubakar Abdurajak Janjalani to fight for an independent Islamic state, the Abu Sayyaf is the smallest, but most radical of Muslim groups in the southern Philippines.

Abdurajak was killed in a clash with police in 1998 and the group degenerated into a terrorist organisation specialising in bombings, extortion and high profile kidnappings.

Kristine L. Alave, INQUIRER.net
Thea Alberto, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 3:27 pm  Comments Off on Pope, ICRC head appeals to Abu Sayyaf  
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