ICRC: ‘Abduction nightmare not over’

Philippine officials said they were hopeful that Islamist militants holding two European Red Cross employees would soon release them after the rebels, who have come under military pressure, freed a Filipina worker.

The Abu Sayaf group has been holding Swiss national Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two-and half months in the southern Philippines. On Thursday they freed Filipina Red Cross engineer Mary Jean Lacaba.

“The group that is left there is now numbering about half of what they used to be, they apparently are suffering from a depletion of many of their resources,” Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno told a news conference on Friday.

“The efforts of our uniformed personnel on the ground are starting to bear fruit,” Puno said. “Hopefully, the Abu Sayyaf will start to realise it is the better part of prudence and discretion to just release the hostages, and if possible save themselves.”

Puno reiterated no ransom was given in exchange for Lacaba’s freedom. Lacaba was reunited with her family at an airbase in the southern port city of Zamboanga on Friday after about 2-½ months of captivity in the rebels’ mountain lair.

She was handed over to the provincial vice-governor by the rebels on Thursday evening.

“I believe that the kidnappers are now more aware of the limitations that they face and the wisdom of releasing the hostages than they were a week ago,” Puno said.

The three ICRC workers were abducted on Jan. 15 near the capitol and shortly after a visit to a local prison where the neutral humanitarian agency was funding a water project.

No fighting has erupted so far this week between the rebels and government troops and local government officials were facilitating negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf, Puno said.

Alain Aeschlimann, ICRC’s operations chief for east Asia, southeast Asia and the Pacific, issued another appeal late on Thursday for the unconditional release of the remaining hostages.

“The nightmare of this abduction is not over,” Aeschlimann said in a statement. “Once again, we ask that they remain unharmed.”

The Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent militant group based on southern Jolo island and nearby Basilan, had earlier demanded that troops relax the tight cordon they were keeping around the rebel hideout before talks for the hostages’ release could start — which the government agreed to.

The rebel group, with links to the Southeast Asian regional militant network Jemaah Islamiah and to al Qaeda, has been blamed for the worst terrorist attack in the Philippines, the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that killed 100 people.

It is also notorious for high-profile kidnappings and large ransoms and has a history of beheading captives.

Manny Mogato and Karen Lema, Reuters

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Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm  Comments Off on ICRC: ‘Abduction nightmare not over’  
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