Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kidnapped Red Cross workers in the Philippines phone aid organization

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Al Jacinto / Jan. 27, 2009) – Three kidnapped Red Cross workers in the southern Philippines phoned the aid organization to say they were alright.
The trio – Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba – were seized at gunpoint on January 15 after visiting a prison facility in Patikul town in Sulu province.

“We have had contact by telephone with Mary-Jean, Eugenio and Andreas over the past 48 hours. They say that considering the circumstances, they are doing alright. Their voices sounded composed and calm and we hope that this is a positive sign. The ICRC reiterates its call for their rapid and unconditional release,” said Alain Aeschlimann, who heads the organization’s operations for Asia Pacific in Geneva.

Filipino authorities said a jail guard, Raden Abu, who was dismissed after 12 prisoners escaped early this month masterminded the kidnapping. Abu later handed over the three hostages to Abu Sayyaf militants who group has links with the Indonesian terrorist Jemaah Islamiya.

Security forces have sealed off a mountain in the town of where Abu Sayyaf militants are believed to be hiding with their captives. Local troops, aided by US military intelligence, have sealed off the area to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from escaping.

Police last week said the hostages were spotted in Talipao town, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

“We genuinely appreciate all efforts to bring our colleagues safely home and the concern of so many people inside and outside the ICRC for their welfare and we are grateful for their support.”
”However, we are concerned that any further public comments by us at this stage could complicate efforts to bring about the safe and rapid return of Marie-Jean, Eugenio and Andreas. I am sure both the media and the public understand this,” said Aeschlimann.
Aeschlimann last week also appealed to the kidnappers to free all the hostages.

“I appeal to those who are holding Mary-Jean, Andreas and Eugenio to let them go as quickly as possible,” Aeschlimann said. “We want to have them back safe and sound. Their children, spouses, parents, siblings and loved ones are anxious and waiting for them to come home.”
The ICRC said it has no direct contacts with the kidnappers and ruled out paying ransom in exchange for the safe release of the victims.

Authorities said the hostages are being held by Abu Sayyaf leaders Albader Parad and Abu Pula, who were both former Moro National Liberation Front rebels. (Mindanao Examiner)

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