Philippines: Italian Red cross hostage 'not in great shape'

Manila, 10 April (AKI) - Militants from the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group believed to be holding Italian Red Cross worker Eugenio Vagni in the southern Philippines have said "is not in very good shape," the president of the Philippines Red Cross and senator Richard Gordon, told Adnkronos International (AKI) on Friday.

Gordon (photo) spoke with Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad on Thursday, who said Vagni, 62, was having difficulty walking fast enough. "He can't keep up," Gordon told AKI.

Vagni and his co-hostage, the Swiss Red Cross worker Andreas Notter are being held captive in the jungle on the southern Philippines island of Jolo, where they were seized in mid-January with Red Cross co-worker Mary Jean Lacaba.

Lacaba was released last week.

Concerns for the hostages' safety mounted after a deadline expired after which the kidnappers had threatened to behead one of the hostages unless security forces surrounding their jungle stronghold pulled back.

Gordon said the army had still not withdrawn from the Jolo town of Parang and three villages - Pasil, Panabuan and Caday. "These are preconditions for negotiations to begin,"he said.

"They are not asking for a ransom and there have been no further threats, but they may want to negotiate for other demands," he stated.

"I am not a negotiator, I am just the messenger - I try to save lives," he stated.

"We managed to get one hostage freed through talking. We will continue trying. But the government doesn't want to speak to me."

"I have no idea what the government is doing," Gordon added.

Gordon said he also spoke to Italy's ambassador to the Philippines on Thursday after his conversation with Parad and assured him he will continue to pass on any information he receives. He is also in contact with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.

The Red Cross, Pope Benedict XVI and the Italian and Swiss governments made appeals to Abu Sayyaf to spare the hostages' lives and have urged their release.

The abduction of the Red Cross personnel is the most high-profile kidnapping of foreign nationals since 2001, when two dozen tourists, including three Americans, were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants from an island resort in the western Philippines.

One of the Americans was beheaded, a second was killed during a military operation and the third was rescued.


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