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Philippine kidnappers reject talks

Published on 06/03/2009

MANILA - Al-Qaida-linked militants holding three international Red Cross workers in the southern Philippines rejected talks with a former Muslim rebel leader chosen by the government to negotiate their release.

Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad said in a telephone interview with ABS-CBN television late Thursday that unless the military leaves the Jolo island jungles, where the hostages were held for 50 days, his group would not negotiate.

The military rejected such demands but so far troops refrained from launching a rescue for fear of hurting the hostages, Swiss Andreas Notter, Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba and Italian Eugenio Vagni.

In its latest attempt to secure their freedom, the Philippine government sent Nur Misuari, founder of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front, to Jolo, but he was unable to talk to the abductors.

Vagni told ABS-CBN that they were getting weak because of the difficult conditions they were living in. He appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross "to do their best to really do something to free us."

Alain Aeschlimann, the head of Red Cross Asia-Pacific operations, said the health of the hostages appeared stable, even though they suffer from fatigue and stress.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 members, is on a US list of terrorist organisations for its links to al-Qaida and involvement in kidnappings, bombings and beheadings.

Officials say the guerrillas possibly resorted to kidnappings to raise necessary funds after they lost most connections to foreign financiers when many of their commanders were killed in US-backed offensives.

AP / Teresa Cerojano / Expatica