Reclaim positions, military in Sulu told

MANILA, Philippines— Just hours after the deadline imposed by the Abu Sayyaf group for a military pullout in Sulu expired, Sulu Governor Sakur Tan said he ordered government troops to regain their positions.

This as he said none of the three Red Cross hostages was harmed despite the expiration of the deadline set by the extremist group for the military to pull out its troops in Sulu.

Citing unnamed sources, Tan said this indicated the group was “considering many things” and opted not to carry out the beheading of one of the hostages.

Meanwhile, Tan did not say how many government forces were redeployed shortly after the 2 p.m. deadline Tuesday for government to pull back troops.

Over the weekend, the military agreed to withdraw troops from the towns of Indanan, Patikul, Parang, Maimbung, and Talipao after the Islamic extremist group threatened to behead one of the three Red Cross workers it has been holding hostage since January 15.

But Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo, designated Sulu-based military spokesman on the kidnapping crisis, said in a separate interview that no such order to retake previous positions had been issued.

“I did not hear him say that but we can also exercise that option to retake [our] formerly held positions that were affected by our earnest move to provide the kidnappers an opportunity for an unhampered chance to release one of their hostages, one of the victims,” Arevalo said.

And although he placed the entire Sulu province under a state of emergency, Tan said he has not ordered operations to rescue Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Jean Lacaba.

He said he had lost contact with the abductors and could not say if they really carried out their threat to behead one hostage.

Tan said that his last conversation with the extremist group was around noon Tuesday, some two hours before the pullout deadline.

He said government’s priority now was to “recover the hostages safely and alive.”

Arevalo affirmed Tan’s statement saying they were gathering information if the Abu Sayyaf really “made good their threat.”

“Hopefully in due time we would be able to say conclusive information. But as of now we have not received any. We hope and pray the beheading threat will not happen,” Arevalo said.

Katherine Evangelista, INQUIRER.net

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Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 7:02 pm  Comments Off on Reclaim positions, military in Sulu told  
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