Italian hostage Vagni freed

MANILA, Philippines – Eugenio Vagni, the Italian worker of the International Committee Red Cross (ICRC) who was held captive for six months by extremist rebels in Sulu, was freed early Sunday, authorities said.

Vagni was freed at around 1:05 a.m, said Gwen Pang, Philippine National Red Cross secretary-general.

“He is now receiving initial medical care at the 3rd Marine Brigade in Sulu,” Pang added.

The information, she noted, was confirmed to her and Senator Richard Gordon, PNRC chairman, by the chief of police of Sulu province.

In a separate television interview, Gordon maintained that neither the Italian Government nor the Red Cross paid ransom.

“The ICRC or the PNRC will not pay any ransom… The Italian government, they did not pay ransom as far as I know,” he said.

John Robert Esperat also of ICRC confirmed Vagni’s release, saying “he is okay.”
Esperat said Vagni was expected in Zamboanga by noon Sunday.

“There will be medical check-ups, after which he will be flying out of the country. We are very happy and glad for his release,” Esperat said.

A PNRC statement said, “Eugenio is ok and in relatively good health. We thank those who have continued praying for his safe release.”

Armed Forces Chief Victor Ibrado, in a text message to INQUIRER.net, said there was a plan to transport Vagni to Manila.

In an earlier interview, Pang said Vice-Governor Lady Anne Sahidulla went to the Abu Sayyaf lair in Indanan, Sulu on Saturday afternoon to pick up Vagni, a water systems expert who, prior to his release, was reported to have been suffering from hypertension and hernia.

In a radio interview, Sahidulla said Vagni lost some weight and has difficulty walking.

“He’s very grateful that he’s safe. He didn’t ask for anything. He didn’t know where he was taken for six months,” Sahidulla said.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, in a statement, had expressed “great satisfaction following the freeing, which has just happened, of our compatriot Eugenio Vagni.”

Frattini also passed on his “gratitude to the Philippine authorities.”

Vagni, 62, was seized by the militant group Abu Sayyaf with ICRC colleagues Andreas Notter of Switzerland and Mary Jean Lacaba of the Philippines in January while on a humanitarian mission on Jolo island.

In March a spokesman for Abu Sayyaf said one of the three captives would be beheaded if government forces did not withdraw from the island.

Manila initially rejected the demand, but relented after the ICRC’s president in Geneva made a rare public appeal for cooperation to save the lives of the three.

Troops retreated from the Abu Sayyaf’s jungle area, effectively leaving five towns on the island of Jolo under the group’s control.

Notter and Lacaba were freed the following month, although the terms of their release were not disclosed by either side.

The militants last month made a ransom demand for Vagni’s release.

Kristine L. Alave and Julie Alipala
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With reports from Joel Guinto, INQUIRER.net;
Agence France-Presse

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Published in: on July 12, 2009 at 6:28 am  Leave a Comment  

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