Saturday, January 31, 2009

Medicines sent to ICRC hostages in the Philippines; Italian captive suffering from hypertension

Kidnapped ICRC team Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, Sulu deputy governor Nur Anna Sahidulla, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Swiss Andreas Notter.

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 31, 2009) – One of three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines is suffering from hypertension and that medicines have been delivered in Sulu island where the trio is being held captive.

A bulletin issued late Friday by the Task Force ICRC said Italian Eugenio Vagni is suffering from high blood pressure. Vagni, along with Swiss national Andreas Notter and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, were kidnapped January 15 after inspecting humanitarian projects at a prison facility in Patikul town.

Police said a dismissed prison guard was among five gunmen who seized the trio and later handed them over to an Abu Sayyaf faction headed by Albader Parad and Abu Pula.

Sulu deputy governor Nur Anna Sahidulla, who heads the local Red Cross chapter, was allowed by the kidnappers to their camp on Wednesday and she spoke with the hostages.

“TF ICRC reported that Vice Governor Nur Ana Sahidulla was able to establish contact with the kidnap victims. According to the lady vice governor Andres Notter, Eugenio Vagni and Mary jean Lacaba seem to be well, although Vagni was suffering from high blood pressure.”

“She confirmed that the victims were able to receive the books, medicines and other personal effects. This development is vital for the authorities to establish proof of life on the part of the victims,” the bulletin said.

The kidnappers said they wanted no ransom, but government livelihood and development projects in exchange for the hostages.

Sulu Governor Sakur Tan on Friday reiterated Manila's strict no-ransom policy and said any payment of money for the release of three kidnapped Red Cross workers would only be used by the Abu Sayyaf to purchase more weapons.

“We will not pay ransom to the kidnappers. Any ransom paid to the kidnappers will only be used to buy new weapons and that will be a big problem for us,” said Tan, head of the Task Force ICRC.

Alain Aeschlimann, head of the ICRC's operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, said the hostages have also been able to make telephone calls on a number of occasions since their abduction.

“Talking with them and hearing that they are doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances has brought some relief for their loved ones and, of course, their colleagues. But as time passes, those who love and care for them are understandably growing more and more worried about their well-being,” he said.

Aeschlimann did not give details about Vagni’s health condition, but in several phone calls to the ICRC, the hostages said they are okay.
“I think it's important for medical information to remain private. No one would want their health information to be made available for the world to know. They tell us they are in good health and the photo indicates likewise. Of course, every time we talk to them we let them know that their families and friends miss them and are waiting for them to come home. We tell them everyone sends their love,” Aeschlimann said.
The ICRC has also ruled out paying ransom to the kidnappers for the freedom of the hostages and appealed repeatedly for their safe release.

“I can confirm that a contact with the kidnappers has been established but I'm simply not willing to comment beyond this. I wouldn't want to say anything that could compromise their safety or our chances of getting them home safe and sound as soon as possible,” Aeschlimann said.
With the kidnapping of the aid workers, the ICRC said the humanitarian project in Sulu was suspended. “Their abduction has meant that the water and sanitation project they were working on in Sulu has had to be put on hold, but the ICRC's work in the rest of the Philippines is continuing as planned,” he said.

Filipino authorities have blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the spate of kidnappings-for-ransom and bombing attacks in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner)

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