Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Aid workers still in Abu Sayyaf's hands


Islamic militants holding three Red Cross aid workers have not yet released any of their hostages, despite promises of a pullback from the Philippine military, authorities said yesterday.

Manila announced a military retreat after Abu Sayyaf threatened to kill the hostages at the end of the month if the army cordon around the rebels was not lifted.

Sulu provincial Governor Abdusakur Tan, head of a government task force dealing with the crisis, said he spoke by telephone yesterday with Albader Parad, the spokesman for the kidnappers who had earlier threatened the captives with beheading.

“He said they are not budging, so they are sticking to their original demand,” Tan said.

The gunmen want all government forces to pull back to Jolo island’s provincial capital, effectively yielding the entire Sulu island group and its half a million residents to Abu Sayyaf control.

Tan told ABS-CBN television that he hoped the military pullback would at least get the kidnappers to negotiate, even if there was no immediate hostage release.

“It is not easy to reposition troops but we are doing this just so that we can get an early release of these hostages or get them [Abu Sayyaf] to sit down and talk to us,” he said.

The government’s decision to withdraw troops came after a dramatic appeal by the head of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, for the lives of Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, 37, Andreas Notter, 38, of Switzerland, and Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62.

The three were snatched on Jan. 15 during a humanitarian mission.

The Abu Sayyaf, linked by the military to the al-Qaeda network, has been blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks, including kidnappings and bombings.

In a separate interview, Parad told ABS-CBN one captive would be freed if the military showed signs of moving.

“Even if the retreat is not completed within 36 hours, as long as we can see a total pullout happening, we will turn over one of them,” he said.

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