Page last updated at 07:14 GMT, Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Kidnapped aid workers are 'alive'

ICRC vehicles, Davao City, Philippines Jan 09
The International Committee of the Red Cross does not pay ransoms

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that the three staff abducted by gunmen in the southern Philippines are alive and well.

Telephone calls made by the three from Friday to Monday have confirmed they are still being kept together.

But they also relayed a message from their abductors demanding that the military stop searching for them.

The ICRC also quashed rumours that any ransom demand had been made, stressing the organisation does not pay ransoms.

Swiss ICRC staffer Andreas Notter, 38, Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62, and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, 37, were taken from their car on Jolo Island last Thursday.

Good health

The three kidnap victims were able to use their mobile phones to call their Manila-based colleagues for the first time on Friday, and have called daily since then.

ICRC spokeswoman Anna Nelson confirmed the calls, and said that to the best of their knowledge "they are still together and they tell us they are in good health".

"For us the priority really is that they say they are in good health and that's extremely important," Ms Nelson said.

"It's firstly important to note that we don't have direct contact with the people who have abducted our colleagues.

"So we don't know at this stage who they are, what they want or where they are," she said.

"Regarding ransom, as a matter of general policy we do not pay ransom and we want the unconditional release of our colleagues," Ms Nelson added.

Jean-Daniel Tauxe, head of ICRC in Manila, said rumours that the kidnappers had demanded a $5m (3.5m) ransom were unfounded.

He said the ICRC "would like the safe and unconditional return of our colleagues as quickly as possible".


The Red Cross workers had been visiting a jail where they were working on a water and sanitation project.

Philippine soldier patrols Jolo Is, 2007
Jolo Island, southern Philippines is a base for the Abu Sayyaf gang

Initial reports, and statements by the chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, Senator Richard Gordon, suggested the kidnappers were from the notorious Abu Sayyaf gang, which is based in the area.

These suspicions are shared by Philippine police and military officials, but cannot be confirmed.

At least 1,000 Philippine soldiers are said to be searching for the kidnapped aid workers.

They say a former prison guard, disgruntled at losing his job, appears to have helped set up the kidnapping, which took place a few metres outside Sulu provincial jail on Jolo island.

They are also investigating whether a jailbreak on 13 January, in which 12 prisoners broke free, was connected to the abduction two days later.

Abu Sayyaf has twice attacked luxury beach resorts and taken away tourists, including Westerners.

In 2001, three kidnap victims, including an American, were beheaded by their captors.

The police and military say about 380 Abu Sayyaf fighters - down from 1,000 in 2002 - are hiding in Jolo and Basilan islands.

The poor and underdeveloped area is home to decades-old Muslim separatist rebellions.

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