ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / May 9, 2009) – An Italian aid worker being held by Filipino and Indonesian terrorists in the southern Philippine province of Sulu has phoned his family, but details of the conversation were not released, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
It said Eugenio Vagni called on Friday, a day after Abu Sayyaf terrorists ambushed and killed five policemen in Sulu’s Maimbung town. Among the killed was the provincial police chief, Julasirim Kasim.
“He was able to call his family on the morning of Friday. However, the entire situation is difficult for his loved ones, who of course remain very worried about him. We are keenly aware of the distress they are feeling,” said Alain Aeschlimann, the ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific.
“At the ICRC, we also remain very worried about Eugenio's safety and well-being. His captivity is an agony for him, for his family and friends, and for the entire ICRC. We earnestly hope that the abductors will release Eugenio safe and sound, and that they will do so immediately, without imposing any conditions,” he added.
Vagni was last reported to be ill and suffering from hernia and is being held by Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya terrorists in Indanan town near Maimbung where Kasim’s group was pursuing them. His last phone call to his wife was on April 30.
Aeschlimann has repeatedly appealed for Vagni’s safe release and assured his family that the ICRC is closely working with Philippine authorities.
“We are doing everything we can. Many people are working behind the scenes to resolve the crisis, and we are grateful for their efforts. We are in constant contact with the authorities in the Philippines and Italy, who are monitoring developments closely.”
”We want Eugenio and his family to know that every possible step is being taken to bring about his release. We are not discussing these efforts in detail, however, as doing so could make it harder to achieve our aim,” he said.
Aeschlimann also denied Philippine media reports that the kidnappers have demanded ransom for Vagni’s freedom.
“Let me say once again that the ICRC has not received any demand for ransom since this crisis began. It is important to make it clear that the ICRC's policy is not to pay ransoms in the event that any of its staff are kidnapped. There are no exceptions under this policy. Let me also say very plainly that the ICRC is not offering to pay – and will not pay – for information on Eugenio.”
“We have repeatedly stated our position on these matters throughout the crisis. It is extremely upsetting that rumors of this kind nevertheless continue to circulate, as they could potentially jeopardize the ICRC's work in other conflict zones and sensitive areas around the world – not only in the Philippines,” he said.
Sulu Governor Sakur Tan has ordered soldiers and policemen to rescue Vagni, the last of three international Red Cross workers seized January 15 in the town of Patikul where they inspected a humanitarian project at a prison facility.
The Abu Sayyaf had released Filipino aid worker Mary Jean Lacaba on April 2 and police forces rescued Swiss national Andreas Notter on April 18 in Sulu’s Indanan town.
American troops stationed in Sulu Island had been assisting the local military by providing intelligence about the Abu Sayyaf. Filipino authorities said several Jemaah Islamiya terrorists, among them Mauiya and probably Dulmatin, Umar Patek and Zulkifli bin Hir, are believed to be with the militants holding Vagni. The US offered as much as $18 million bounties for their capture.
The Abu Sayyaf had previously threatened to behead the hostages if security do not pull out from Sulu and this prompted the governor to put the island under state of emergency and ordered a crackdown on suspected supporters of the militant group.
Authorities blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the spate of bomb attacks and kidnappings-for-ransom. In 2001, the group kidnapped three US citizens from a posh resort in Palawan province in central Philippines and brought them to Basilan Island, south of Zamboanga City where they beheaded one hostage. (Mindanao Examiner)