03/19/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Tensions and confusion over the fate of Red Cross workers abducted in Jolo

Fr Angel Calvo, a Claretian missionary, says tensions are high in the area. The government has no action plan and “anything can happen.” Talks are not confirmed but an army operation is still possible.
Manila (AsiaNews) – The fate of three Red Cross workers in the hands of kidnappers for the past two months remains “confused”; no one can predict “future developments.” What is certain is that tensions are running high in the area and anything can happen to the hostages, Fr Angel Calvo, told AsiaNews.

A Claretian missionary and chairman of Peace Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ), Father Calvo confirmed that efforts are underway by the International Red Cross and the Filipino government to reach a positive outcome but that a “precise action plan” was missing.

On 15 January armed men abducted three Red Cross workers in Jolo, an island in the southern Philippines: Italian Eugenio Vagni (39), Swiss Andreas Notter (39) and Filipina Jean Lacaba (37).

Recently, Philippines Red Cross chief Richard Gordon suggested that a hostage might be released.

Other sources close to Islamic fundamentalist group Abu Sayyaf, thought to be responsible for the kidnapping, are threatening to behead a hostage if the army pushes forward.

“Right now, there are neither certainties nor talks’” said Father Calvo speaking from Basilan; “nor is a ransom possible.”

“The government has no action plan, but we cannot exclude an army operation. Anything can happen,” he added.

An operation by the military is however wrought with dangers. In the last few days an attack by Filipino marines ended in the death of nine people, three soldiers and six Islamic militants. The raid left many concerned about the life of the hostages.

Complicating matters is that no one knows for sure who the hostage takers are, Father Calvo said.

All that is known is that Islamist fighters are involved but it is hard to establish whether they belong to al-Qaeda-linked Filipino group or not.

“These groups are doing it for the money, something confirmed by the recent abduction of a Sri Lankan humanitarian worker and three teachers in Zamboanga,” Father Calvo explained.

People are abducted for “ransom money,” but it is hard to know how important Islamic extremist ideology is.

“The bitter reality is that the government does not know what to do,” the priest said.

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