Emergency declared as beheading deadline up in Philippines

March 31st, 2009 - 5:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Manila, March 31 (DPA) The Philippines imposed emergency rule on a southern island where Muslim militants said they would behead one of three abducted Red Cross workers Tuesday, ignoring last-minute pleas from leaders who included Pope Benedict XVI.
The Abu Sayyaf rebel group had given the Philippine government until 2 p.m. (0600 GMT) to pull out all soldiers, police and militia from practically the entire island of Jolo, 1,000 km south of Manila.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, said Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad told him in a telephone conversation 30 minutes before the deadline that they would make good on the threat.

“Parad said they will do what they want to do,” Gordon said at a press conference where he again appealed to the Abu Sayyaf to spare the lives of the hostages.

As the deadline passed without word on the fate of the hostages, Abdusakur Tan, governor of Sulu province, which includes Jolo, declared a state of emergency, according to military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Edjard Arevalo.

Arevalo said Tan ordered government security forces to set up checkpoints around the island and implement a curfew.

Tan also directed the military and police to conduct “general search and seizures, including arrests in the pursuit of the kidnappers and their supporters” and launch other operations “as may be necessary to ensure public safety”, he said, quoting from the emergency rule proclamation.

The hostages - Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba - were abducted Jan 15 after visiting the provincial jail on Jolo to oversee a water and sanitation project.

Gordon, who wept during the press conference, said if the Abu Sayyaf pushes through with its threat, it would be the first time that a Red Cross worker is beheaded or killed in captivity.

“I am saddened that this would happen in the Philippines,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Pope Benedict XVI led appeals for the Abu Sayyaf to spare the lives of the hostages.

“Our message to the Abu Sayyaf is please spare and release Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas,” committee president Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement. “All they were doing was helping people in need in your area.”

On the weekend, soldiers, police and militia met a previous rebel demand and pulled out of Indanan town in a bid to save the hostages, giving the rebels around 130 square km to move around freely.

When the military cordon was up, the kidnappers were restricted to only about 30 square km in the jungles of Indanan.

Under the new demand, government forces would be limited to the capital town of Jolo.

Abu Sayyaf rebels have been blamed for some of the worst terrorist attacks and high-profile kidnappings in the Philippines. They also have beheaded hostages, including an American tourist abducted in 2001, when authorities failed to meet their demands.

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