Govt to allow pullout for 1 ICRC hostage

MANILA, Philippines— With the Abu Sayyaf’s renewed demand of a troop pullout, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno on Monday said that government would only grant another pullback of police, military, and civilian forces when guaranteed a release of a second hostage.

“If there is any request for a pullback that is going to be directed to a release of a hostage, then we are willing to consider that because if what they want is to be able to release the hostages to ensure their own safety, we are willing to bend over backwards to do that. But not pullback or pullout for the sake of pullout,” Puno said.

Speaking to reporters in Camp Crame, Puno, who is involved in strategizing government moves to the three-month hostage crisis in Sulu, also said additional police forces were being deployed around Sulu to maintain pressure on bandits still holding two foreign aid workers.

He said the Abu Sayyaf cell still holding Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni again made contact with government negotiators Easter Sunday to reiterate a pullout demand made on April 3, a day after the release of Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba.

“They called to repeat the demand for a pullback, which means it has no deadline,” said Puno.

He said the hostages, held by the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad, were also allowed to contact their families through cellular phone.

But Puno again stressed that this new demand was impossible to grant.

“The areas they are asking to be evacuated are very, very difficult to leave. These are very important military installations,” he said without naming the areas.

The deadline lapsed but Puno said the kidnappers did not issue any new threats against Vagni and Notter.

Puno also brushed off yielding to new demands and said that the kidnappers were reportedly asking for money from the families of the hostages.

“Kaya nga ang duda ko talaga naghahanap pa rin ng pera. Siyempre kahit na baitan mo, pag pinakausap mo sa kamag-anak at sinabi mong may sakit at ospital, tinatakot mo talaga [That’s why I think they’re really scouring for money. Even if you show them kindness, if they talk to the relatives and tell them that the hostages are sick, they’re really terrorizing them],” he said.

“Bagamat nagpapasalamat ako na hindi nila sinaktan yung mga hostages eh napakawalang-hiya pa rin nila dahil tinatakot nila yung kamag-anak [Even though I am grateful that they are not hurting the hostages, they’re still shameless because they’re scaring the relatives],” he added.

Puno said that the redeployment of government troops in Sulu has now been completed and troops would continue to tighten their cordon around the areas where the kidnappers were believed to be staying.

Meanwhile, Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa said they have also increased the number of police forces in the province of Sulu.

He said two companies of regional mobile group from Western and Central Visayas (Regions 6 and 7) have been deployed and another company of Special Action Force would be deployed soon.

One RMG company consists of 60 policemen, while one SAF company consists of around 100 policemen.

The kidnappers, Puno said, were believed to have been separated into three groups because of the military pressure. They were seen moving in the areas of Mt. Tumatangis, Mt. Taran, and southeast of Mt. Tucay.

The two hostages, though, are still together, Puno said.

“They’re still fine, but they need medical attention,” he added.

In an interview at Camp Crame, Puno also said government troops would maintain a “wait-and-see” status over the kidnapping of Red Cross workers as long as there would be no imminent threat to the lives of the two remaining hostages.

“Well, we will keep waiting for as long as there is no indication they will harm the hostages. But if they intend to harm the hostages then we know exactly where they are,” he added.

Tarra Quismundo,
Abigail Kwok, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Published in: on April 13, 2009 at 9:52 am  Comments Off on Govt to allow pullout for 1 ICRC hostage  
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