Sun, Apr 19, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Abu Sayyaf frees Red Cross hostage

TWO DOWN A Swiss national was the second of three hostages seized in January to be released. The final hostage is said to be in serious need of surgery

AP , MANILA

A Swiss Red Cross worker was freed yesterday after three months of captivity in a Philippine jungle, but al-Qaeda-linked militants were still holding an Italian hostage who is ill and needs surgery, officials said.

Philippine military and police forces closed in on the stronghold of Abu Sayyaf militants on southern Jolo island, prompting the gunmen to abandon Swiss Andreas Notter, 38, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) worker and two colleagues were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf rebels on Jan. 15. One of them, a Filipino, was released two weeks ago.

Puno told reporters in Jolo that security forces came within 500m of the militants two nights ago, sending them fleeing with Notter. Early yesterday, they ran into a cordon of police auxiliary forces and were forced to leave Notter behind, he said.

The secretary said that the kidnappers had escaped.

“Everything happened very quickly. I am still a bit confused,” Notter told reporters in brief comments at the residence of the provincial governor.

He said he was “very happy to be alive and safe” and thanked authorities and others who helped win his freedom.

“All my concerns are now with my companion, Mr Eugenio Vagni,” he said.

Senator Richard Gordon, who also heads the Philippine National Red Cross, said Notter told him that the 62-year-old Italian was “very much suffering” from a hernia and needed urgent surgery. Vagni’s condition was complicated by hypertension, he said.

Anastasia Isyuk, spokeswoman for the ICRC, said it was concerned about Vagni and “we hope that he remains safe and unharmed.”

Notter was later flown by helicopter to the southern port city of Zamboanga.

The three workers were abducted Jan. 15 after inspecting a Red Cross water sanitation project at the provincial jail in Jolo.

The militants had threatened to behead the hostages last month, prompting a partial pullback of a security cordon around their jungle stronghold.

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