Govt seeks safe release of remaining ICRC hostages

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government will do all it can to realize the safe release of two Red Cross workers being held hostage by al-Qaeda-linked militants in a southern jungle, but will not give in to unreasonable demands, an official said Friday.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said no ransom was paid to the Abu Sayyaf for the late Thursday release of Filipino Red Cross employee Mary Jean Lacaba, who had been held captive for 10 weeks in the jungles of southern Jolo island in Sulu province.

The 37-year-old Lacaba was flown early Friday to southern Zamboanga city where she was reunited with family members.

“We are happy she is back with us,” President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said.

Puno expressed guarded relief, saying the government still gave the mission for the safe release of the two remaining hostages — Swiss Andreas Notter, 38, and 62-year-old Eugenio Vagni of Italy — the “highest priority.”

“We are happy, of course, with the release of one hostage,” he told a news conference at the national police headquarters in Manila on Friday. “There is much more to be done, and we intend to do everything that is necessary until the hostages are safely released.”

The three were abducted Jan. 15 after inspecting an International Committee of the Red Cross water sanitation project at the provincial jail in Jolo.

Puno said the two men were “still in good condition” and that the release of Lacaba was “an important sign of a willingness to release the other two.”

Asked why the Filipino hostage was released instead of one of the two foreigners, Puno indicated the kidnappers could be seeking a ransom.

“Maybe they feel that there is still some hope they will get some money from the (family of the) other two hostages and not from the family of Lacaba?” he said.

Puno said troops that had been pulled back earlier this week after the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers threatened to behead one of their hostages had been redeployed and formed a “very strong perimeter” around the militants’ stronghold.

Sulu provincial police chief Julasirim Kasim said a landmine wounded three Philippine marines Friday in a village outside Patikul township, near Indanan township where the militants handed Lacaba over to provincial authorities Thursday night.

He said he believed militants under the Abu Sayyaf commander Radulan Sahiron planted the explosive to break through the military cordon so that reinforcements and supplies could reach the group holding the hostages.

Puno said the government would seriously consider any demand for a pull back of security forces if it would lead to the two hostages’ freedom.

“The government will do anything that is reasonable … but so far I have not seen any reasonable demands,” he said, without elaborating.

Alain Aeschlimann, who oversees the Asia-Pacific operations of the ICRC, said the “nightmare is not over.”

The Swiss and the Italian governments also appealed for their release.

The Abu Sayyaf group has beheaded hostages in the past, including an American in 2001 and seven Filipinos in 2007. The militants had said they would behead one of the three Red Cross hostages on Tuesday if government forces did not withdraw, but did not follow through with that threat.

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

Associated Press

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 4:00 pm  Comments Off on Govt seeks safe release of remaining ICRC hostages  
Tags: ,
%d bloggers like this: