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Philippines in hostage compromise

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The Philippines have relaxed a security cordon around Abu Sayyaf rebels who have threatened to behead one of three Red Cross hostages seized in January.

At least 800 soldiers have pulled back on the southern island of Jolo.

"We are giving them a breathing space where they feel they're safe to negotiate," said Philippine Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

The rebels said they would kill one of the hostages if the cordon around them was not fully removed by 31 March.

Humanitarian workers

In rare public appeal, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Jakob Kellenberger asked Philippine officials to consider the demands made by the Islamist militants.

He also called on the kidnappers not to harm the hostages - Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba - who were seized on 15 January.

Red Cross Youth Volunteers vigil for ICRC hostages, Manila 25 Feb 09

Mr Kellenberger said Red Cross staff were in the Philippines to do humanitarian work, and that nothing whatsoever could be achieved by hurting them.

The Abu Sayyaf has a history of beheading captives.

In 2001, American Guillermo Sobero was killed after the government turned down attempts by the rebels to negotiate for hostages on the nearby island of Basilan.



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