The Philippine government says it is ready to withdraw some security
forces deployed near a hideout of the extremist Abu Sayyaf to
facilitate negotiations for the release of three kidnapped Red Cross
workers. The Islamic militants have threatened to behead one hostage if
security forces remain in position.
Secretary Ronaldo Puno says the government is considering pulling back
police and civilian defense forces from the area, in an attempt to save
the lives of the Red Cross hostages.
Puno says the Marines have already returned to barracks.
he insists that the government is not bowing to the demands of the Abu
Sayyaf for a wider pull out from the southern island of Jolo because it
is tantamount to surrounding the population there into the hands of the
Islamic extremist group.
The Abu Sayyaf kidnapped three Red
Cross workers - a Filipino, an Italian and a Swiss in January, while
they were inspecting a prison water project in the area.
erupted between the military and the rebels last week, reportedly
wounding the group's leader. He threatened to behead one hostage if the
government fails to withdraw from the area by Tuesday.
announcement came after the International Committee of the Red Cross
appealed to the government to consider the rebels demand. Anastacia
Iyuk, spokeswoman for the ICRC in Manila, says the group asked the
government to refrain from further military operations in the area.
reiterate our call to the Philippine authorities to do everything in
their power to secure the life of the hostages and in the interest of
our staff, we ask the authorities to consider the kidnappers demand to
reposition troops," she said.
The Red Cross workers are the
latest kidnap victims of the Abu Sayyaf, a group that claims to be
fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines but
has earned notoriety for its kidnap-for-ransom activities and
In 2001, the group kidnapped three Americans,
including a missionary couple. One was beheaded. One of the
missionaries was rescued by U.S. trained Filipino soldiers, but her
husband was killed during the military operation.