Red Cross workers ‘alive’—Italy

ROME/MANILA— The three Red Cross workers kidnapped in the Philippines by Islamic extremists who have threatened to behead one of them are “alive,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Thursday, the ANSA news agency reported.

The hostages — an Italian, a Swiss and a Filipino abducted on January 15 — “are alive according to information in our possession,” following “contacts with our compatriot,” Frattini said.

The Abu Sayyaf group had said it would behead one of the trio unless Philippine troops effectively ceded control of Sulu, where the army has been battling the extremists, by March 31.

The Philippines military made a partial withdrawal from five towns but refused to go further.

The regional operations chief for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Alain Aeschlimann, earlier said he had no new word on the captives’ fate.

Sulu Vice-governor Lady-Ann Sahidulla also said authorities had not reestablished contact with the kidnappers.

“There’s no [mobile phone] signal. We can’t establish their location because they have no signa in Indanan,” Sahidulla told in a phone interview.

Sahidulla said Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, who heads the multi-agency crisis group Task Force ICRC, was “doing everything” to contact the Abu Sayyaf.

Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Sulu-based spokesman on the ICRC kidnap crisis, said that “hopes they are all alive remain high notwithstanding the fact that no proof of life was yet obtained.”

At the same time, he appealed to “fellow citizens” to stop “circulating text messages and unverified information that may tend to cause panic and fear. Instead, we enjoin prayer for the safety of ICRC kidnap victims.”

Representative Yusop Jikiri told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that farmers harvesting their crops early morning Thursday, reported seeing some 300 armed men and three other unarmed persons—one of them a woman—in a village in Parang, Sulu.

Jikiri said that the farmers said one of the unarmed persons who were obviously being guarded by some of the armed men, was walking on what looked like an improvised cane.

But Jikiri said the farmers were not certain if any of the unarmed persons they sighted around 5 a.m. in the village of Lipunos, were Caucasians as it was still dark.

The sighting was reported after authorities admitted that the Abu Sayyaf members have slipped out of Indanan with their hostages.

In earlier reports, Notter was allegedly wounded when one of the Islamic extremists shot him for trying to escape.

“I could not say if they were indeed the ICRC hostages. I am treating this information as second-hand information,” Jikiri said.

He said he got hold of the information when the farmers came to him early in the day.

Founded in the 1990s, allegedly with funds from Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for bombings and kidnappings across the Philippines.

Pope Benedict XVI has issued a last-minute appeal for the lives of the hostages, as have the governments of Italy and Switzerland.

Katherine Evangelista,
and Agence France-Presse, with a report
from Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao

Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 5:24 pm  Comments Off on Red Cross workers ‘alive’—Italy  
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