Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Security forces cordon Sayyaf lair in Sulu; state of emergency declared after ultimatum lapses

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Mar. 31, 2009) – Security forces have cordoned a huge area in Sulu’s jungle after an ultimatum by Abu Sayyaf terrorists to behead one of three kidnapped Red Cross workers lapsed on Tuesday.

The terrorists said they would decapitate one hostage at 2 p.m. if the government fails to pull out military and police forces in the province, one of six under the Muslim autonomous region south of the Philippines.

The Abu Sayyaf kidnapped on January 15 Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino woman Mary Jean Lacaba after inspecting a humanitarian project in Patikul town.

Albader Parad, one of those holding the aid workers, had threatened to kill the captives at least three times if security forces do not move away from an Abu Sayyaf lair in the town on Indanan, where the hostages are being held. Parad also promised to free one hostage if security forces withdraw.

The military and police have twice moved back from the town after Interior Secy. Ronaldo Puno ordered authorities to withdraw, but the Abu Sayyaf reneged on its promise and demanded a larger withdrawal of troops, policemen and armed village guards helping authorities prevent the terrorists from escaping in Indanan.

Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan has repeatedly appealed to the Abu Sayyaf to spare the lives of the hostages, but Parad flatly rejected his plea. “They are sticking to their original demand to pull out all the troops in Sulu. We will not take this sitting down. We are preparing for the worse and if the worse happens, we shall everything to the Almighty,” Tan said.

It was unknown whether the Abu Sayyaf has beheaded one of its hostages and Parad could not be contacted anymore. Tan has declared a state or emergency in Sulu, a proclamation supported by the police and military and local leaders, said Sonny Abing, the governor’s spokesman.

The order authorizes police action against the Abu Sayyaf and restricts civilian movements and imposes a curfew in Sulu. Police commandos have already been sent to Indanan town and neighboring areas to prepare for to rescue the hostages.

“We are moving back to Indanan to cordon the area. We have forces all over the town now,” said one police commander, who asked not to be named because he was not authorize to speak to the media.

He said security forces were preparing to mount a rescue operation. “We are prepared to rescue the hostages,” he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also appealed to the Abu Sayyaf on Tuesday to spare the captives’ lives.

“Our message to Abu Sayyaf is: please spare and release Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas,” said the ICRC's president, Jakob Kellenberger. “All they were doing was helping people in need in your area. There is no ideology or religious law that could justify killing them.”

”We will do everything in our power to ensure that Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas remain safe and can return to their families, who miss them desperately. Their children, parents, siblings, spouses, friends and colleagues will not give up hope of seeing them again soon,” Kellenberger added. (Mindanao Examiner)

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