Monday, January 26, 2009

Troops seal off vast area in Sulu where kidnapped Red Cross workers are spotted

One of two Philippine Air Force choppers flies over Zamboanga City on Monday, January 26, 2009. Philippine troops, backed by US military intelligence, are tracking down three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu island on January 15. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 26, 2009) – Security forces have cordoned off a vast mountainous area in the southern Philippine island of Sulu where Abu Sayyaf militants are believed holding hostage three Red Cross members, officials said on Monday.

Officials said the militants and their hostages were said to be hiding in Indanan town and that local troops, aided by US military intelligence, have sealed off the area to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from escaping.

The hostages, Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, were seized January 15 by five gunmen, among them a dismissed jail guard, after inspecting a water and sanitation project at a prison facility in Patikul town.

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

The International Committee of the Red Cross 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," Alain Aeschlimann, the ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific in Geneva, 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 has been in contact with the three staff members several times since they were kidnapped and the last time the three were able to call was on January 19.
"We hope that we'll hear their voices again soon and that they remain unharmed," Aeschlimann said. "We also continue to hope that this difficult situation will have a positive outcome."

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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