Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 16:11 UK

Philippines rebels free hostage

Filipina hostage, Mary Jean Lacaba on Jolo island, Philippines (28 Jan 2009)
Ms Lacaba had been held by the militants since January

Islamist militants in the Philippines have released one of the three Red Cross staff they had been holding hostage on Jolo island since January.

Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said the Filipina, Mary Jean Lacaba, was now with the Philippine military.

There has been no word on the condition of two people captured with her, a Swiss and an Italian national.

The Abu Sayyaf rebels had threatened to behead one of the hostages if their demands were not met.

Colonel Eugene Clemen, commander of the Philippine marine brigade in Jolo, would not disclose where Ms Lacaba had been handed over but said she had looked "tired and haggered".

"She is being attended to by doctors and she was able to talk to a colleague at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and to her husband," he told the AFP news agency.

Sen Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine Red Cross, said Ms Lacaba was "alive and well".

"I'm really very elated. I'm so happy and had a good cry," said Mr Gordon.

Mr Gordon said he had received information that the two other hostages, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Swiss Andreas Notter, were alive, the Associated Press news agency reported.

"I hope we can get the other two," he said.

A spokesman at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Florian Westphal, said they were alive when Ms Lacada was released.

Prison visit


The three ICRC workers were abducted by gunmen on 15 January after a visit to a local prison where the the organisation is funding a water project.

They were held in the jungles of Jolo island, Mindanao, in the southern Philippines.

The rebels had threatened to behead one of the hostages by 1400 (0600 GMT) on 31 March unless all military operations against them were halted and troops withdrew from the area.

At least 800 soldiers of 1,000 pulled back on Jolo island but the government refused to withdraw completely, saying doing so would leave the island's civilian population exposed to militant attacks.

Abu Sayyaf, which has links to al-Qaeda militants, is notorious for kidnappings and terror attacks and has a history of beheading captives.

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

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