Puno: Red Cross hostages are alive

The Philippine government is confident three Red Cross workers held by Islamic militants are alive, a senior government official said, one day after a rebel deadline to behead one of the captives expired.

Interior secretary Ronaldo Puno said on Wednesday that government authorities had “highly reliable” information the three hostages — Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba — were safe and unharmed but admitted there was no proof they were alive.

“We’re still hoping for a negotiated peaceful conclusion to this entire thing,” Puno told reporters in the southern port city of Zamboanga after he met local government and security officials on Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf rebel group had demanded the withdrawal of troops from Jolo island and threatened to kill one of the hostages if the demand was not met by 2 p.m. (0600 GMT) on Tuesday. The demand was rejected.

Puno said also that about 2,000 troops and local security forces had re-established a cordon around the kidnappers and the hostages in the interior jungles of Jolo. They had withdrawn a few kilometres (miles) at the weekend to placate the rebels.

“Now, that we have got back to the positions that we left before, I think that the cordon is in place and we will just wait to see what the developments are from now on,” Puno said.

Other officials said intermediaries had established contact with the kidnappers but there were no details immediately available.

A Muslim congressman who is also a senior leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a rebel group that signed a peace deal with the government in 1996, was in touch with the Abu Sayyaf, officials said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Edgard Arevalo, military spokesman on Jolo, said security forces had not launched any offensive or rescue operations, although a state of emergency was imposed in the province on Tuesday.

“Negotiations for the safe release of the kidnap victims will continue,” Arevalo told reporters, adding the military “has not so far received any report on the beheading of any of the Red Cross kidnap victims”.

The three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have been held in the jungles of Jolo since Jan. 15. They were abducted after a visit to a local prison where the Red Cross is funding a water project.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the regional Jemaah Islamiah and to al Qaeda, has been blamed for the worst militant attack in the Philippines, the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that killed 100 people.

Reuters

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Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 7:03 pm  Comments Off on Puno: Red Cross hostages are alive  
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