Release of another hostage seen

DIGOS CITY – Another worker of the International Committee of the Red Cross still held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf group is expected to be released soon, officials said yesterday.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said the government was expecting the bandit group to either release Italian Eugenio Vagni anytime soon or have him checked by a medical team.

But a Philippine Daily Inquirer informant in Sulu yesterday said that a medical team might not be needed for Vagni anymore.

The source, who is involved in the ground operations against the Abu Sayyaf, said Sulu officials were already preparing for Vagni’s imminent release anytime this week.

He said Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan and Vice Governor Nur Anna Sahidulla were meeting Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno in Zamboanga City.

Expecting his release

“They had a meeting with Secretary Puno in Zamboanga City. If Eugenio Vagni is not released tomorrow [Saturday], it will be Sunday at the latest. They are already expecting his release,” the source said.

Vagni was reported to be suffering from hernia and needs immediate medical attention.

Teodoro said they were expecting news from the negotiators today.

Vagni, Swiss Andreas Notter, and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf on January 15 after inspecting a water sanitation project of the ICRC at the Sulu provincial jail in Patikul town.

Lacaba was freed on April 2

Teodoro said there were more positive developments in the negotiations between five Muslim clerics and Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad.

The government has tapped the ulama group to negotiate with the bandit group.

“These are respected leaders in the area, we believe the Abu Sayyaf is listening to them,” he said.

Teodoro admitted the government had grown tired of giving favors to the kidnappers but was giving negotiations a last chance.

Ransom payment ruled out

He said if the ulama would still fail to convince the Abu Sayyaf into either releasing Vagni or allowing a medical team to come in, then the government would already take other moves. He did not elaborate.

“We are exerting all efforts so [Vagni] will be released very soon. His condition continues to deteriorate,” Teodoro said.

In Malacañang, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde yesterday ruled out the payment of ransom to secure the release of Vagni.

“The government will have to stand pat on the no-ransom policy. Otherwise we will become another Somalia and make the business of kidnapping attractive and lucrative,” he told reporters.

Remonde also said the US Embassy’s fresh offer to help secure the release of the two remaining hostages would be studied by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

US Embassy deputy envoy Thomas Gibbons said the US was ready to help end the hostage crisis, but stressed it would not take part in “direct combat missions.”

Ambassador Kristie Kenney said the US continued to share intelligence information with the Philippines on the hostage crisis.

As this developed, Teodoro upheld the use of military force to rescue six hostages, including a Sri Lankan peace advocate, being held by the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan.

“While the safety of the hostages is still the paramount concern, we will exert utmost efforts to recover them as we apply the full force of the law against those who commit brazen criminal acts,” Teodoro said in a statement yesterday.

On Thursday, the local crisis committee negotiating for the release of six people abducted in separate incidents, issued a resolution allowing government troops and the police to mount a full rescue operation following the collapse of talks with the kidnappers.

Teodoro said the spate of kidnappings in Basilan and Jolo “underscore the urgent need for the government to stem lawlessness in the two provinces.”

Whole nation will suffer

“If we fail to restore the rule of law in these two areas, it is not only Mindanao but the whole nation that will suffer because the breakdown of law and order inevitable leads to economic decline and social ferment,” he pointed out.

Basilan Vice Governor Alrasheed Sakalahul, the kidnappers – composed of the Abu Sayyaf group led by Furuji Indama and renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters – are demanding ransom for the release of their captives.

Still being held hostage are Filipino teachers Janette de los Reyes, Rafael Mayonado, Freires Quizon, lending company employee Lea Patris, Sri Lankan peace advocate Omar Jaleel and farmer Ernan Chavez.

Marines spokesperson Captain Neil Estrella said the six captives were being held separately in Sumisip town.

Orlando Dinoy and Julie Alipala
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Published in: on April 18, 2009 at 12:06 am  Comments Off on Release of another hostage seen  
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