Philippines: Aid workers' abductors want military to call of manhunt

Manila, 19 Jan. (AKI) - Three abducted aid workers held in the southern Philippines urged the massive manhunt for their kidnappers to be called off, the Philippines National Red Cross president, Richard Gordon, told local radio. The captives made the appeal to the International Committee of the Red Cross in a phone call, he said.

The Red Cross workers, who include an Italian, Swiss and a Filipino citizen, have made phone contact with the ICRC several times since they were abducted on the southern island of Jolo last Thursday after visiting a local prison.

The three men, Eugenio Vagni, Andreas Notter and Jean Lacaba, have said they have not been harmed, but have asked for efforts to be made to secure their early release, according to reports.

Gordon on Monday denied reports that the kidnappers have made a five million dollar ransom demand for the men's release.

The Philippines has however appealed to the Swiss and Italian governments not to pay any ransom for the men's release, commercial TV channel GMA News reported.

Jolo police were quoted as saying they believe a sacked prison guard is among five suspects who abducted the three men.

Police believe the kidnappers have now handed the men over to Al-Qaeda linked militant group Abu Sayyaf gunmen, who are hiding in dense jungle near Jolo's Indanan township.

At least 1,000 marines and police have been involved in the search for the captives. The high-profile kidnapping has reportedly angered Jolo officials who have in recent years endeavoured to counter the island's image as a hotbed of Muslim separatist insurgency.

Philippines' police and security forces say that more than 380 Abu Sayyaf fighters - down from 1,000 in 2002 - are hiding in the southern Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) where Jolo is located.

The prime suspect in the aid workers' kidnapping, Abu Sayyaf's goal is to establish a Muslim 'caliphate' in the Muslim-majority southern Philippines.

The group has twice attacked luxury beach resorts and abducted tourists, including Westerners. They have held them for months at a time and secured large ransoms for their release. In 2001, three kidnap victims, including an American, were beheaded by their Abu Sayyaf captors.

Muslim separatist rebellions have continued for decades in the poor and underdeveloped area.


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