7 charged in kidnap of Red Cross workers

MANILA, Philippines—Three police officers, two barangay chiefs and two alleged Abu Sayyaf members have been charged with kidnapping for ransom in connection with the Jan. 15 abduction of three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The Philippine National Police filed the charges on Saturday against the seven in the prosecutor’s office in Zamboanga City, where they were being held by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, PNP spokesperson Supt. Jose Gucela said.

Also on Monday, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde announced that the government had tapped a new emissary to help secure the release of the hostages. He declined to reveal details “so there will be a chance for the negotiations to succeed.”

PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa told reporters that military, police and civilian volunteer units had completed redeployment on Jolo island, to put pressure on the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) to release Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni.

A third hostage, Mary Jean Lacaba, was freed on Thursday after 77 days in captivity.

Troops encircling the kidnappers had been withdrawn following an ASG threat to behead one hostage last Tuesday, but they moved back after the kidnappers demanded a total pullout.

However, local authorities were able to negotiate a stay of execution and the freedom of Lacaba.

Sen. Richard Gordon Monday said that Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad called him on Sunday to remind him anew of the terrorist group’s earlier demand for troops to pull out from Parang and three barangays (villages) in Indanan, not a total pullout from the island.
Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he and Parad also talked about the condition of Notter and Vagni, but declined to give details.

Word war continues

In what appears to be a continuing word war with Gordon, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. Monday ruled out a total withdrawal of troops from Jolo. He said that the military presence led to the release of Lacaba.

“A pullout is different from repositioning. A pullout means our troops would have to leave military camps, which we did not allow when Senator Gordon requested it earlier,” he said in a phone interview from Honolulu with dzMM radio.

If Gordon wanted to maintain its communication with the kidnappers, it was fine with him, Teodoro said, as long as the senator would bring the demands to the committee and let it make the decisions.

Charged with kidnapping were Senior Police Officer 3 Muhilmi Ismula, SPO1 Sattal Jadjuli and PO2 Marcial Ahajan.

Accused as conspirators were barangay chiefs Alano Mohammad of Kanaway in Parang, Julhassan Awadi of Sawaki in Indanan and ASG members Hadjirul Bambra and Ibnogajir Hadjirul. Ismula is said to be a nephew of Parad.

“There are vital witnesses that pinpointed them. They provided logistical support and safe haven to the kidnappers,” said Gucela.

ASG leader

Asked why Parad was not among those charged, Gucela said investigators were still in the process of “case buildup.”

“There is no testimony yet that could directly link Parad,” Gucela said.

Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo, Jolo-based spokesperson for the hostage crisis, said soldiers would not pull out from positions they are now holding.

“We cannot in conscience afford to provide the bandits a safe haven for future incidents of kidnapping and piracy like the Sipadan and Dos Palmas incidents. Neither should we allow the same to happen or spill in the nearby island provinces,” he added.

New emissary

Remonde said the new emissary was known to Parad, “otherwise they will not negotiate with him.”

Despite the naming of a new emissary, he emphasized that all actions seeking the release of the captives should be cleared with the local crisis management committee headed by Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan.

“The governor and officials of Sulu definitely know the situation in Sulu better than any armchair expert based here in Manila,” Remonde said.

“I still would like to believe that Senator Gordon is acting and speaking on the basis of the best of intentions and motivations,” Remonde said.

“But as we say, oftentimes the road to perdition is filled with good intentions. So even if we have good intentions, let’s be more circumspect [and determine] if we are helping or not.”

Tarra Quismundo and Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With reports from Jocelyn R. Uy,
Christian V. Esguerra and Julie Alipala

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Published in: on April 7, 2009 at 1:34 am  Comments Off on 7 charged in kidnap of Red Cross workers  
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