Mon, Mar 23, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Manila, Red Cross trade barbs over failed release

FADING HOPES Abu Sayyaf gunmen said they would release one of the kidnapped aid workers if military forces retreated, however none of them were freed

AFP , MANILA

The Philippine government and the local Red Cross branch rowed in public yesterday after Islamic militants failed to release one of three aid workers held hostage as they earlier promised.

Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba were abducted on the southern island of Jolo on Jan. 15 while on a humanitarian mission.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen had said they would free one of the three International Committee of the Red Cross workers if government forces surrounding their Jolo hideout retreated.

However no one has been released and the government admitted on Saturday that hopes were fading that the Abu Sayyaf would deliver on their pledge.

“I shall hold the president and [her] minions responsible if any one of our three colleagues have been killed in any irresponsible attempt to rescue them,” Philippine National Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon, who is also a senator, said in a statement.

He alleged that the military ignored his request to reposition their forces so the hostage handover could took place.

Gordon also claimed his intervention averted a threat to behead the hostages after the military launched a rescue attempt last week that left three marines and two kidnappers dead and 19 soldiers wounded.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo’s spokesman Cerge Remonde said the government respected Gordon’s admission that he had been betrayed by the kidnappers.

“That’s why in cases like these it’s better to leave it to government policy, which is leaving this matter to the local crisis committee and with the full support of the [military] and the [police],” Remonde told reporters.

Gordon said that he was “compelled to intervene because the lives of our colleagues [had] been put in clear and present danger when the military troops irresponsibly attacked their captors’ lair. In fact, we were able to stop their executions.”

The Abu Sayyaf is the smallest but most radical of several Islamic militant groups in the southern Philippines.

Set up with funds from the al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, it has been accused of the worst terror attacks in the Philippines, including a February 2004 ferry bombing in Manila which claimed more than 100 lives.

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