Three kidnapped Red Cross workers still missing in Mindanao

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A week after 3 members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were kidnapped in Patikul, Sulu by heavily armed unidentified men on motorcycles, there had been little news on their whereabouts. Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba were snatched in Southern Philippines on January 15, 2009 during their field inspection of a water sanitation project in Sulu Provincial Jail in Southern Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf, the extremist Islamic group under Albade Parad with Al Qaeda ties had been suspected to be behind the abduction. On Monday, January 19, the kidnapped ICRC workers placed a phone call to their office asking that the military rescue operation be suspended.

Gen. Alexander Yano of the Armed Forces of the Philippines heads the search and rescue operation which show no progress. The military officer keeps a controversial news blackout which he believes is needed so as not to compromise the life of the kidnapped victims.

“Thursday’s abduction was the most high-profile kidnapping of foreigners since 2001, when Abu Sayyaf gunmen snatched nearly two dozen tourists from a resort, including three Americans. One of the Americans was beheaded, a second was killed during a military rescue operation and the third was rescued. The incident prompted Washington to deploy troops in the south starting in 2002, but they are barred from combat.” —Yahoo News / AP (01/17/09, Teves, O)

“Alain Aeschlimann, head of the ICRC’s operations for Asia Pacific in Geneva, said their main concern is to ensure that they continue to be unharmed and that they are let go, without any conditions, as quickly as possible.” —Malaya (01/20/09, Reyes, V)

There is increasing clamor to step up the search. Conflicting rumors heighten the anxiety and feeling of helplessness of hostages’ relatives. With no progress in finding the missing workers, the US Embassy in Manila has offered help to the Philippine authorities. If mishandled, this crisis can quickly degenerate into another round of ransom-giving, then body injuries, and even deaths. Unintended results bring back the old questions on the competence and integrity of the military authorities in solving this kind of dilemma. (Photo Credit: AFP/ ICRC file; Charles Saceda) =0=

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