Abu Sayyaf renews threat, demands pullout

The Abu Sayyaf renewed its threat to behead one Red Cross hostage if government forces do not withdraw from several areas in Sulu.

The bandit group said they followed an agreement to set one of the hostages free, and now, it’s the government’s turn to deliver on its part of the deal.

Just a day after Mary Jean Lacaba was released by the Abu Sayyaf, the bandit group’s leader, Albader Parad called Philippine National Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon several times even as the cellphone signals remain blocked in the towns of Parang and Indanan where the group is holding their remaining hostages, Andreas Notter and Eugenio Vagni.

Albader reiterated their demand for a military withdrawal before negotiations for their captives’ release could begin.

The Abu Sayyaf wants government forces from five detachments in Indanan and Parang to pull out.

No new deadline

In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Albader said Gordon would urge the government to pull out so that negotiations can begin for the two hostages.

“Sabi niya [Gordon] kausapin yung mga gobyerno para magkaroon…magsimula na ang pag-uusap,” Albader said.

When asked if they are giving the government a new deadline, Albader said, “Wala, pero tignan namin ang situation dito sa Sulu. (No, but we will see the situation in Sulu).”

Albader said Mary Jean’s release was part of their agreement with Senator Gordon in exchange for a military pull out, but if government fails to accomplish its end of the bargain, they may continue with their threat to behead the hostages.

“Kapag hindi kami magkasundo, at hindi magkaroon ang sinasabi namin, kung pipilitin nila lang kami, kapag walang halaga sa kanila ang dalawang ito, mas lalo na kami wala. at hindi namin kaano-ano,” Albader said.

Senator Gordon said he will bring the matter to the president, hoping the commander-in-chief would give the order that would spare the lives of the two remaining Red Cross captives, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni, who have been in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf for nearly three months now.

No retreat

But despite renewed threats of beheading, government will not retreat from critical areas in Indanan town in Sulu where the Abu Sayyaf is holding the two foreign hostages.

Instead, police, civilian and military forces continue to tighten their cordon around the bandit group.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno had said they will now employ “calibrated pressure” against the bandit group.

Reunited

Lacaba was reunited with her family Friday after more than two months in the jungle.

As officials stepped up efforts to save Vagni and Notter, Lacaba was flown from Jolo island to the port of Zamboanga.

There, she was reunited in private with her husband and child before taking a chartered plane to Manila.

Appearing haggard but smiling, she waved to reporters as she walked to the aircraft at Zamboanga air base.

In Manila, she was brought to the local Red Cross headquarters for medical tests and has been kept out of the spotlight.

“She has to undergo a series of tests,” Gordon said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Lacaba appeared to be in good health, although tired and worried about her colleagues.

Not easy

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said Lacaba was too tired to give details about her captivity but had indicated the two other hostages were “still safe, in good condition and their health is holding up,”

Puno said her release did not mean an end to the crisis was near.

“It wasn’t easy to get Mary Jean released… it’s not going to be easy to get the other two released,” he warned.

Gordon, for his part, said the government had no direct communications with the kidnappers. “We are in the dark,” he added.

The Abu Sayyaf have been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history and have been linked by intelligence agencies to the Al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

No talks unless…

Sulu Vice-Governor Nur-Ann Sahidulla said the militants would only negotiate for the release of Vagni and Notter once the military have withdrawn from the town of Indanan, a Muslim rebel stronghold on Jolo.

Puno said they could pull back government forces a little way to enable any release, but would not withdraw the troops.

The Abu Sayyaf had previously demanded that all military and police forces be withdrawn from most of Jolo by March 31 or they would behead one of their hostages.

The military withdraw partially from five towns but refused to go further, saying that would leave the island vulnerable to Abu Sayyaf attacks.

Ransom

Abu Sayyaf militants have kidnapped several other westerners over the past decade, many of whom, according to the Philippines military, were ransomed off for millions of dollars.

They also murdered an American hostage, Guillermo Sobero, in 2001, while a second American, Christian missionary Martin Burnham, was killed in a military attack the following year that led to the rescue of his wife Gracia.

President Gloria Arroyo voiced her relief at Lacaba’s release, saying that it was proof “we should always stand behind our policy of dealing firmly with any form of lawless behavior.”

Efforts to isolate the kidnappers were continuing, Puno said, adding that about half of the kidnapping gang had since abandoned the group, leaving about 50 men.

A landmine exploded Friday under a military truck transporting soldiers to the security cordon near Indanan, injuring three soldiers, regional military chief Lieutenant General Nelson Allaga said.

abs-cbnNEWS.com, reports from Ces Drilon,
ABS-CBN News; ANC; AFP

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Published in: on April 4, 2009 at 10:39 pm  Comments Off on Abu Sayyaf renews threat, demands pullout  
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