04/01/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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In Jolo residents fear violent military operation, in Manila authorities say hostages still alive

by Santosh Digal
Locals fear a military rescue operation after a state of emergency is declared. The government stresses it will do “whatever” it takes to free the International Red Cross workers.

Manila (AsiaNews) – People in Sulu province, southern Philippines, now fear abuses by police and the military after the provincial government declared a state of emergency, this according to Bishop Angelito Lampon, apostolic vicar in Jolo and a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Tensions, he noted, are running high among ordinary people in the province. Meanwhile Filipino government sources have confirmed that the three hostages held by Abu Sayyaf are still alive.

The terrorist group yesterday threatened to kill a hostage if the military did not pull out of the island. In response Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan declared a local state of emergency, imposing a curfew from 9 pm to 4 am.

The terrorists, who have been holding Eugenio Vagni (39) from Italy, Andreas Notter (39) from Switzerland, and Mary Jean Lacaba from the Philippines since 15 January, have extended their ultimatum by three hours.

Today the Filipino military pulled back to the edges of the forest where the kidnappers and hostages are hiding, ready to intervene at any moment to free the latter.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said that the latest intelligence information indicated the three were still alive, adding that the Filipino government “will do whatever is necessary to save the hostages”.

Mgr Angelito Lampon said that the authorities have set up several checkpoints to prevent other armed groups from entering villages in the area.

The authorities have also announced that arrest warrants will be issued immediately against anyone suspected of involvement in the abductions or membership in the Abu Sayyaf group.

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