Swiss Red Cross hostage freed in Philippines

20th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Andreas Notter released from Abu Sayyaf kidnappers.

ZAMBOANGA - Philippine security forces on Saturday rescued a Swiss Red Cross worker held hostage for more than three months by Islamic militant guerrillas, government officials said.

Andreas Notter, 38, was freed on the outskirts of the town of Indanan on Jolo island in the extreme south of the country following a joint operation by the military and local police, the officials said.

The government said it had no immediate details about a second International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hostage, 62-year-old Italian national Eugenio Vagni, who was believed to be sick and in need of hernia surgery.

The two men, along with a local colleague, were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf group on 15 January as they left a prison on Jolo. The Filipina, Mary Jean Lacaba, was released on 2 April.

"I am very glad to be with you. I am still a bit confused how it happened," a tired-looking Notter told reporters as he was turned over to Red Cross representatives by Jolo governor Abdusakur Tan and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

"I walked out and am happy to be alive and safe," he said, adding that "everything happened very quickly."

He called on the authorities to do everything they could to obtain Vagni's release, who was in pain from his condition.

Notter was then transported to the nearby port city of Zamboanga, en route to Manila, officials said.

Puno said the kidnappers tried to escape through a large military-police barrier when they were caught.

"They gave chase and the kidnappers were forced to leave Mr Notter behind because they were not able to drag him with them anymore," he told reporters, adding that the rescue was a "result of very intense operations" against the Abu Sayyaf.

The office of Philippine President Gloria Arroyo praised the rescue.

"This is a major breakthrough that we hope shall eventually lead to the rescue of the last remaining hostage, Eugenio Vagni," spokesman Cerge Remonde said in a statement.

Alain Aeschlimann, head of Asian operations at ICRC, repeated in a statement from Geneva for Vagni to be released.

"We are, of course, very relieved that Andreas will soon be back in the arms of his loved ones," Aeschlimann said.

"But we remain very concerned about Eugenio's safety and we call on the abductors to let him go safely, immediately and unconditionally."

Jolo Governor Tan said five Muslim clerics sent to the Abu Sayyaf to persuade them to free the hostages remained in the area, even as he instructed local security forces to continue to apply pressure.

Tan said they "will continue to exert more pressure for the safe release of Mr Vagni".

The Abu Sayyaf previously threatened to behead one of the foreign hostages unless government forces withdrew from their positions on Jolo.

The rebels remained in a confrontation with troops after being trapped in a jungle area near Indanan town.

AFP / Expatica

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