Fri, Jan 23, 2009 - Page 5 News List

ICRC appeals for release of staff in Philippines

AFP , MANILA

A photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Manila on Jan. 15 shows the three kidnapped ICRC staff from left: Eugenio Vagni of Italy, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Filipina Jean Lacaba.

PHOTO: AFP

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) yesterday appealed for the unconditional release of three staff members kidnapped by suspected Islamic militants in the southern Philippines.

The appeal came exactly a week after gunmen kidnapped ICRC workers — Filipina Mary-Jean Lacaba, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Swiss national Andreas Notter — on the southern island of Jolo.

“I appeal to those holding Mary-Jean, Andreas and Eugenio to let them go as quickly as possible,” said Alan Aeschlimann, head of the Asia operation of the Geneva-based organization.

“We want to have them back safe and sound,” Aeschlimann said in a statement, noting that their families “are anxious and are waiting for them to come home.”

The three had contacted the ICRC “several times” since they were seized by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen on Jan. 15. The last telephone conversation was on Monday.

“We hope that we’ll hear their voices again soon and that they remain unharmed,” Aeschlimann said.

Armed forces chief General Alexander Yano on Wednesday said troops have stepped up manhunt operations for the Abu Sayyaf, who are believed to have taken their hostages to a forested area near the remote Jolo town of Talipao.

Separately, a negotiating team in Jolo are trying to open dialogue with the kidnappers, who were reportedly demanding millions in dollars in ransom. The ICRC has said however that it has not received any ransom demands.

The Abu Sayyaf is a gang of Islamic militants blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks. It is on the US government’s list of wanted foreign terrorist organizations and is behind the deaths of two US hostages seized from a beach resort in 2001.

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