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Negotiators try to contact Red Cross captors

04/02/2009 | 02:44 PM

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine authorities were trying to re-establish contact with al-Qaeda-linked militants threatening to kill three Red Cross hostages, officials said Thursday.

Gov. Abdusakur Tan of southern Sulu province, where the Abu Sayyaf threatened to behead one hostage this week, said the militants and captives were on the run as the government redeployed troops around a hilly area on Jolo island close to their camp.

Tan declared a state of emergency on Jolo on Tuesday, hours after the beheading deadline set by the militants lapsed. Tan later said he had information but not proof the hostages were alive as troops rumbled off in tanks and trucks to try to prevent the militants from escaping.

Provincial police chief Julasirim Kasim said Thursday government forces were "sealing off" areas where the gunmen and the Italian, Swiss and Filipino hostages were sighted.

He said police were continuing to set up road checkpoints around Jolo but refused to give other details.

Italian Eugenio Vagni, Swiss Andreas Notter and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba were seized Jan. 15 after visiting a Red Cross water sanitation project at the provincial jail.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said Jolo Rep. Yusop Jikiri, a former Muslim rebel commander with extensive connections among the militants, talked with Abu Sayyaf commander Abu Pula on Tuesday but failed to win the hostages' release.

In a later interview with a television network, Puno said the kidnappers were moving within a 9.4-square-mile (15-square-kilometer) jungle area on Jolo.

He said the area was drenched in rain, making travel and living conditions difficult. The gunmen could not readily abandon the hilly area because it has been their only source of drinking water in the jungle, Puno said.

"This has been their situation for a while now, and although there has been no offensive action taken against them, they have absolutely no possibility of getting away from the area," he said.

He said the focus of government efforts was to make sure that kidnappers "head back in the direction of negotiation with anyone."

The Swiss federal government appealed to the militants to release the hostages.

"We implore the kidnappers to show compassion and to release Mary Jean, Andreas and Eugenio without further delay and in good health. The three hostages have dedicated their lives to the cause of peace and to helping the most disadvantaged people in the world," a statement said.

The Abu Sayyaf group has beheaded hostages in the past, including an American in 2001 as well as seven Filipinos in 2007.

The U.S. government has placed the Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 gunmen, on its list of terrorist organizations. - AP
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/155293/Negotiators-try-to-contact-Red-Cross-captors

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