DILG chief on 3 Red Cross hostages: ‘They’re alive but…’

MANILA, Philippines— The three Red Cross hostages were alive despite threats by al-Qaeda-linked militants to behead them, Philippine officials said Wednesday as they sought to resume talks for their release.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said he had no proof of life, but all indications are that the Swiss, Italian and Filipino captives were unharmed a day after a deadline by the Abu Sayyaf to behead one of them lapsed.

The governor of southern Jolo island, Sakur Tan, also said an informant told him the captives were alive.

“If one of them had been murdered, the situation would have already been different,” Puno told reporters.

The 10-week crisis entered a period of uncertainty after Tan declared a state of emergency on Jolo on Tuesday, including a curfew, roadblocks and redeployment of government forces near the Abu Sayyaf camp in Indanan township, only a week after they pulled out in hopes the hostages might be freed.

Security officials said a last-ditch attempt by two Muslim lawmakers to negotiate the release of the hostages faltered Tuesday after the kidnappers became alarmed over the troop movements.

The two security officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Puno confirmed to reporters Wednesday that Jolo Rep. Yusop Jikiri, a former Muslim rebel commander with extensive connections among the militants, talked with Abu Sayyaf commander Abu Pula on Tuesday but failed to win the hostages’ release.

“That’s why they are kidnappers — they have no word of honor,” Puno said.

A police official monitoring the hostage crisis also said a group of Muslim clerics met one of the militant commanders and prodded him to reconsider their decision to kill a hostage.

Tanks and truckloads of marines rolled out of a Jolo camp toward Indanan to surround the gunmen in a hilly jungle, Tan said. “We’ll make sure that these bandits cannot kidnap again.”

Puno continued to hold out hope for a peaceful conclusion to the crisis.

“They can still end this in a peaceful way. I hope they’ll decide to do that,” he said.

The hostages — Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni — were seized Jan. 15 after inspecting a water project for the Jolo prison.

The Abu Sayyaf group has beheaded hostages in the past, including an American in 2001 as well as seven Filipinos in 2007.

The U.S. government has placed the Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 gunmen, on its list of terrorist organizations.

Associated Press

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Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 7:00 pm  Comments Off on DILG chief on 3 Red Cross hostages: ‘They’re alive but…’  
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