The government is ready to pull security forces back from a militant jungle stronghold in the southern Philippines in a last-ditch attempt to save three Red Cross hostages threatened with beheading, officials said yesterday.
Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said Philippine marines had withdrawn to their barracks on Jolo island and that the government was considering pulling back police and civilian militiamen from a loose cordon around a guerrilla stronghold to facilitate negotiations for the hostages’ release.
Abu Sayyaf militants have given the government until Tuesday to pull back or they said they would behead one of the three Red Cross workers held since Jan. 15.
“We can reposition a little bit more” to allow the negotiations to continue, Jolo Governor Satur Tan said.
He said police and armed civilian volunteers were currently positioned in a 6km radius to prevent the militants from slipping through.
Tan refused to say how far they would move, but Puno made it clear the government could not meet a demand for a wider pullout that would almost certainly give the militants too much space to maneuver.
“We will not surrender the entire province to the demands of the kidnappers, as much as our hearts bleed for the hostages,” Puno said. “We are still willing to continue discussing everything, to continue with negotiations whenever possible to convince them to be reasonable.”
“We hope they change their decision in what they intend to do with the hostages and settle this thing peacefully,” he said.
If the militants harm the hostages, Tan said the government would “finish them off.” He also warned that no ransom would be paid, saying it would only buy more guns for the Abu Sayyaf and encourage more abductions.
The US-backed military, which has been battling the Abu Sayyaf for more than a decade, had earlier rejected any additional troop pullout, saying the militants could not be trusted.
But the International Committee of Red Cross said it was “extremely concerned” for the hostages’ safety and urged the military on Thursday to consider the withdrawal demand.
One of the hostages, Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, told ABS-CBN television by cellphone on Wednesday that the time was running out.
Lacaba said she and her two European colleagues — Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni — were afraid for their lives “every minute, every second because we don’t know when a firefight will suddenly start.”
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘SUICIDE’: Media reports said Park Won-soon went missing on Thursday after a staff member filed a sexual harassment claim against him this week Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, viewed as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election, was found dead of an apparent suicide hours after he was reported missing, police said, adding that he was the subject of an undisclosed investigation. In a note he is thought to have left behind on his desk, Park offered his apologies. “I thank everyone who was with me in my life. I apologize to my family for only making them suffer from pain,” according to the note that was released by his office yesterday. Park, in his letter, asked to be cremated and have his remains spread
RISKY BUSINESS: The Chinese firm has stockpiled 500,000 pieces of 5G equipment not covered by US sanctions, but fears a wider ban could be announced in the UK Huawei Technologies Co believes it can supply 5G hardware unaffected by US sanctions to the UK for the next five years, sidestepping the expected conclusion of British emergency review on Tuesday. The company has stockpiled 500,000 pieces of kit, but fears a wider ban on its equipment is to be unveiled to placate rebel British Conservative Party lawmakers, who say that the Chinese supplier represents a national security risk. The British government on Friday said that it was “very likely” that British Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden would make a statement to parliament on Tuesday