ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 27, 2009) – The International Committee of the Red Cross has sent fresh supplies of medicines to three aid workers kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the southern Philippine province of Sulu.
The Abu Sayyaf is holding Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba in the jungle of Indanan town. The trio was kidnapped in Patikul town after they inspected a humanitarian project at a local prison.
“We know from reliable sources that they received fresh supplies of medicines that we sent them,” said Alain Aeschlimann, the ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific.
The terrorists reportedly demanded $10-million ransoms for the safe release of the hostages and the pull out of security forces from around an area where they are holed out.
The kidnappers are also considering swapping the hostages with jailed Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the Philippines, according to a report by the Philippine News Service.
It said the Abu Sayyaf could end up swapping Notter, Vagni and Lacaba to any of at least 135 terrorists jailed in Manila. Among those in prisons are Hector Janjalani, elder brother of slain Abu Sayyaf chieftain Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, and other Indonesian Jemaah Islamiya bombers.
The ICRC said it has no contact with the hostages since last week, although, the Abu Sayyaf allowed a television interview recently.
“The three of them made contact with the ICRC and their families a week ago. Since then, we have not had any direct contact with them. In two media interviews, Mary Jean and Andreas said they were feeling weaker and having some health problems. It's hard to confirm what is being reported by the media, but we are concerned about their health and about the fatigue and stress they are suffering,” Aeschlimann said.
“It is very difficult to know precisely where they are. There is a lot of speculation about that. All we can say at this stage is that we know they have been on the move over recent days and that they have had to walk in very difficult conditions, through the jungle and often in the rain. All of this has apparently weakened them.”
Aeschlimann appealed anew to the Abu Sayyaf to free the hostages, one of them Vagni, is reportedly sick.
Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the fate of the hostages. “They should release the hostages without conditions. The Abu Sayyaf cannot blame the government for what is happening to the hostages. It is them who should be blamed for the kidnapping of the Red Cross workers,” he said.
Gov. Sakur Tan of Sulu province, who heads the task force working for the safe release of the hostages, rejected the kidnappers' demand and called on the Abu Sayyaf to free their captives unharmed. Tan said the government will not pay ransom to the kidnappers.
Senior Supt. Julasirim Kasim, the Sulu police chief, said security forces are only awaiting orders to rescue the hostages. “We are awaiting orders to rescue the hostages. Security forces have cordoned off the Abu Sayyaf in the hinterlands,” he said. (Mindanao Examiner)