PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — SULU Gov. Abdusakur Tan yesterday said that despite the threat of the Abu Sayyaf to behead one of the three International Committee of the Red Cross workers by Monday, they will not go to the point of abandoning the island-province to allow the bandits to roam it freely and seize more hostages and engage in other terror acts.
“Pulling out would be tantamount to abandoning the interest of Sulu. We have to protect the civilians and keep the kidnappers contained in a certain area. We can’t allow them to break loose,” he said.
Tan said that as much as possible, they want all three hostages out of the Abu Sayyaf hands as soon as possible.
“We don’t want the town to be a battleground. In fact, we’re trying to avoid making a much bigger problem if we accede to their demand since they cold attract more followers, seize more victims,” he said.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo V. Puno said the area of the government cordon covers about 10 percent of the province.
“They want us to pull out and go to Jolo which covers only four percent. That’s impossible,” he said.
In a talk with Senator Richard Gordon, Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad said they will release one of the three hostages as soon as the Marines pull out of their positions.
Puno however said that no such release took place even though the Marines made their move.
“The term used was pullback of the troops with an understanding they will release one of the hostages. But Sunday came and the promise did not materialize although the Marines pulled out,” he said.
Puno said Tan was going back to Sulu to continue negotiations with the kidnappers.
“Considering the possibilities of moving lines provided they show some good faith, we might move lines a little bit. We hope they will be reasonable enough and allow negotiations to continue since we’ll be creating a safer area for them,” he said.
Puno said the order is that troops should be not within the firing range of the kidnappers.
But a senior Red Cross official yesterday urged the government to consider the demands of the ASG.
Alain Aeschlimann, the Asia-Pacific operations chief for the International Committee of the Red Cross, appealed to the authorities to consider a retreat.
“In the interest of our three staff, the ICRC asks the authorities to consider the kidnappers’ demands regarding the position of troops,” he said in an appeal carried by the international aid agency’s website.
Eugenio Vagni, 62, of Italy, Andreas Notter, 38, of Switzerland, and Mary Jean Lacaba, 37, of the Philippines, have been held by the Abu Sayyaf network on the southern island of Jolo since January 15.Aeschlimann said the Red Cross had been in contact with the hostages on Monday, and that the beheading threat “has obviously increased the stress and hardship they are experiencing.”
“Following the kidnappers’ renewed threats, the ICRC once again appeals to the abductors’ sense of humanity and asks them to avoid taking any action that could endanger the lives of Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas,” he added.
Aeschlimann also called on Philippine authorities to “refrain from further military operations in the area” as it could put the hostages at risk.