Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bloodshed blame on glory seekers

Three Red Cross workers held hostage by Islamic militants in the southern Philippines are believed to have survived deadly clashes between security forces trying to rescue them and their captors.
But Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon lashed out at the military for what he said was an ill-conceived operation that had led to the deaths of three soldiers and two militants - without freeing the three hostages.

Gordon said "buckeroos" from the military on the ground should be investigated for an "irresponsible effort to attain glory."

Fierce fighting erupted on Monday and Tuesday in remote jungle on the island of Jolo as security forces came up against members of the Abu Sayyaf.

The military later reported finding tents and other equipment belonging to the kidnapped Red Cross workers - Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni.

"As far as I know they are alive, but tired," Gordon said.

The military said the Abu Sayyaf commander holding the three had tried to slip through a cordon around a jungle area, which triggered the clashes - though that claim was questioned by Gordon.

It was also said that a leading militant was killed and several other Abu Sayyaf members wounded.

Gordon said he had asked the military to refrain from any rescue attempt at a time when the rebels were already isolated, and talks were continuing to free the captives.

Gordon, a former Olongapo City mayor who is also a Philippine senator, said he had spoken by phone with a man who claimed to be Albader Parad, the presumed leader of the kidnappers.

He had initially been reported killed.

Gordon said that during the conversation the militant had said hostages might be killed or injured in crossfire if troops continued their advance.

"If the military will not stop its operation and pull out there will be no more negotiations," Parad said, adding that his men were prepared to fight.

Armed forces deputy chief Lieutenant General Rodrigo Maclang insisted the fighting could not have been avoided because the rebels were trying to escape.

The Red Cross team was abducted while on a humanitarian mission. Local officials trying to secure their release have cited a ransom demand of US$1 million (HK$7.8 million).


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