No ransom paid for Lacaba, says Red Cross

The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) reiterated Tuesday that no ransom was paid for the safe release of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) worker Mary Jean Lacaba last week.

Alex Rosete, PNRC communication head, issued the denial following reports that some P5.5 million was paid in exchange of the freedom of Lacaba, one of the three ICRC workers the Abu Sayyaf bandit group kidnapped last January 15.

“Ransom was never demanded and, if ever asked, will never be given at all. As a matter of policy, the Red Cross movement does not pay for ransom and we have made our position crystal clear since the initial stage of the crisis,” he said in a press statement.

“No ransom exchanged hands for Lacaba’s (release), and it will also be applied for Andreas (Notter) and Eugenio (Vagni). This ordeal will end without ransom being paid.”

The Abu Sayyaf Group has been holding for almost three months now two of his colleagues at the ICRC – Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni. The two were abducted last January 15 after visiting the Sulu provincial jail.

The third hostage, Mary Jean Lacaba, had been freed last Thursday through the persistent efforts of Vice Gov. Nur-Ana “Lady-Ann” Sahidulla, who is also the chairperson of the PNRC – Sulu chapter.

Sen. Richard Gordon, PNRC head, said the neutral humanitarian agency would not agree to any ransom payment, insisting that Lacaba was freed without any money given to her kidnappers.

Rosete also recalled that even in the phone conversations between Gordon and the Abu Sayyaf, there was no demand for any ransom money, except for the withdrawal of government military troops from the areas near their hideouts.

“These Abu Sayyaf’s demands have been relayed to proper authorities. It is up for them to decide what course of action to take to end this crisis. The PNRC’s primordial concern is the safety of our colleagues,” he said.

$5M ransom?

A Reuters report indicated that the Abu Sayyaf bandit group had demanded $5 million ransom, according to a military report seen on Tuesday.

About two dozen people, including the Red Cross workers and a Sri Lankan aid worker, have been kidnapped in 12 incidents on two restive southern islands since January, said the military intelligence report shown to reporters at the main Philippine base in Manila.

“The kidnappers are reportedly demanding $5 million,” said the report, referring to the Jan. 15 kidnap of the three Red Cross workers by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Reuters cited that reports in newspapers said the kidnappers were paid P5.5 million (about $115,000).

The military said however it is not aware of ransom payments.

“It could be another of those wild rumors,” said Brig. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, a military spokesman. “Military pressure and negotiations got the Filipina Red Cross worker out from the rebel lair.”

The two remaining Red Cross officials are both Europeans — — Swiss national Notter and Italian Vagni.

Last year, kidnap groups generated more than P22 million in ransom payments from at least six kidnappings, including the high-profile abduction of three members of a local television network, the military report said.

The Reuters report said many people believe kidnappings in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country are usually resolved by payment of ransom or an amount called a “board and lodging fee”.

Abdusakur Tan, governor of Sulu province where Jolo is located, said it was a common belief that ransom was paid to secure the release of hostages in the south.

In 2000, about 20 people, most of them Western tourists, were taken captive by the Abu Sayyaf from an island resort across the Malaysian border.

They were all released within three months after about $10 million ransom, in the form of livelihood assistance, was paid by the Libyan government, media reports said at the time.

Puno: Don’t pay any ransom

Secretary Ronaldo Puno on Tuesday meanwhile warned the families of the two Red Cross aid workers and the Swiss and Italian governments against paying ransom to Islamic militants holding them hostage.

Filipino officials said they fear a Singaporean militant working with the kidnappers may be secretly negotiating by telephone with the relatives of the two Red Cross workers.

“Don’t pay a ransom because that will only lead to more kidnappings in the future,” Puno said. “We cannot be sure that they (the kidnappers) are not talking with certain parties from afar which they are not telling us about.”

Rosete reiterated PNRC Chairman Richard Gordon’s position that the Red Cross movement, the oldest and largest humanitarian organization in the world, can not carry out its mission under constant threat of abduction even in conflict-stricken areas.

“Members of Red Cross cannot work under a constant threat of possible abduction again in Mindanao. The Red Cross should be able to enjoy the trust and confidence of the people they serve even the kidnappers’ relatives in the South,” he said.

“Once we pay ransom, then all Red Cross workers and volunteers would be susceptible to possible abduction in the future not only here but also anywhere around the world,” he added.
With reports from Agence France-Presse
and Manny Mogato, Reuters

Published in: on April 7, 2009 at 3:47 pm  Comments Off on No ransom paid for Lacaba, says Red Cross  
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