The Philippine military said it has cut supply lines to Islamist militants who have held three Red Cross workers hostage on the southern island of Jolo since January.
A military spokesman said Tuesday that government troops have cut food, water and other supplies to keep pressure on the Abu Sayyaf militants. The spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Edgardo Arevalo, said soldiers are maintaining their cordon around the dense jungle area where the militants are holding the aid workers.
Also Tuesday, the family of one of the hostages, Swiss national Andreas Notter, released an open letter critical of Philippine Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey's handling of the hostage crisis. Notter's brother said Calmy-Rey should ask Philippine President Gloria Arroyo to call off the military operation.
In another development, Philippine defense officials Tuesday defended the general leading the operation for taking two weeks' vacation.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said Major General Juancho Sabban is traveling to South America on official business. Teodoro said the general's leave was approved before the kidnapping.
Last week, the local chairman of the Red Cross in the Philippines blamed the military for the collapse of a deal to release one of the hostages. Senator Richard Gordon said he had negotiated the release of a hostage in exchange for the military repositioning its troops. Philippine media reported conflicting details about whether government troops moved too early, or refused to change their positions.
The negotiations came just days after Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad threatened to behead Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Philippine Mary Jean Lacaba if government forces pursued the rebels.
Clashes between the two sides killed at least three soldiers and two militants.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.