Philippine vice president mulls talks to free 3 Red Cross hostages

Other News Materials 4 February 2009 09:28 (UTC +04:00)

Philippine Vice President Manuel " Noli" de Castro Jr. on Wednesday said he might go to jungles in the south to negotiate for the release of three aid workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who have been held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants for three weeks.

"I am ready if needed. If I can help, why not? Even if it's not a foreigner, I am willing to help," local Tv network GMA News quoted De Castro as saying, a day after kidnappers allegedly claimed that they were open to talks but demanded the vice president to head the government negotiation panel.

Andreas Notter of Switzerland, Eugenio Vagni of Italy and Mary Jean Lacaba of the Philippines were snatched by armed men in Jolo island of Sulu province on Jan. 15 after they inspected a prison sanitarian project there, Xinhua reported.

ICRC's headquarters confirmed that regular phone contact was established with the abducted staff and medication and other assisting materials were able to be delivered to them, confined in a certain Abu Sayyaf lair in Sulu jungles.

Local media report cited a letter allegedly sent by Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad saying that a pull-out of military presence in Sulu is necessary before they can negotiate with De Castro, flanked by other top government officials and foreign ambassadors.

Source with the presidential palace said it would be up to the National Security Council and the Sulu provincial crisis committee to decide whether to allow De Castro to go down to Sulu to negotiate.

De Castro said he needs military's clearance to go and will insist on the government's no ransom policy.

According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, De Castro played a role in the negotiation for the release of women and children snatched by the Abu Sayyaf from an elementary school in Basilan in 2000.

The Abu Sayyaf is a rebel group with some 380 members blamed for a series of kidnappings and terror attacks in the Southeast Asian country, including the bombing of a ferry near Manila Bay in 2004 that killed more than 100 people.

Twelve people, including a nine-year-old boy, a midwife, Elizar Gomera, three state teachers, two businessmen and two lending company employees were abducted in southern Mindanao in the past three weeks, highlighting a deteriorating security situation in this insurgency-infested region.