JOLO, Sulu – The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) broke its commitment on a deal to free one of the three Red Cross workers they kidnapped here once the military force repositions its troops surrounding their hideout in Indanan, Sulu.
Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, said the bandits promised him to release one of the three hostages if security forces surrounding their jungle lair in the town of Indanan would pull out.
Troops have repositioned away from the ASG lair on Thursday, but the group also demanded for the pull out of the armed village guards helping the military in the rescue operation.
Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino woman Mary Jean Lacaba are still being held hostage by the ASG. The trio were kidnapped on January 15 after inspecting a water and sanitation project at a prison compound in Patikul, Sulu.
Three soldiers had been killed and 19 more wounded in fierce clashes earlier this week after the bandits attempted to break through the military cordon.
Military officials were getting impatient over Gordon’s frequent calls to withdraw soldiers from the town to allow negotiations with the hostage takers. The Abu Sayyaf has threatened to behead one of its hostages if the soldiers get near them or if fighting breaks out again.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) does not regret repositioning its troops in Sulu even if the ASG did not fulfill its promise of releasing one its hostages in exchange for the pull out of soldiers, a military official said Sunday.
Brigadier General Gaudencio Pangilinan, military spokesman of the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) Crisis, said the safety of three Red Cross staffers is on the mind of its top brass when the decision to slacken the military cordon was made. “Ano ba naman ‘yung umtaras tayo ng konti para sa safety ng hostages,” said Pangilinan in a phone interview.
On Thursday, Marine commandos manning the military cordon against the ASG were repositioned following the request of Gordon for a pullback after bandit leader Albader Parad allegedly promised to release one of their ICRC hostages in exchange for loosening the cordon.
The pullback of troops was agreed upon during the meeting of top police, military and government officials in Camp Crame following the threats made by Parad that he would behead one of the hostages after the series of clashes that started on Monday that resulted in his wounding.
Amid the gradual pullback, the ASG did not release one of the ICRC hostages, with recent reports stating that it was because government troops are continuously closing in on them. (with a report from Aaron Recuenco)