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Philippines: ICRC continues to hope for rapid release of abducted staff

04-02-2009 Interview

The three abducted workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the southern Philippines have been missing for more than three weeks. Andreas Notter, Eugenio Vagni and Mary Jean Lacaba were snatched by armed gunmen on the island of Sulu on 15 January. The ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Alain Aeschlimann, discusses the latest developments.

   

   
 
  Alain Aeschlimann, ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific    
     What is the ICRC's reaction to media reports that the military is strengthening its presence in Sulu?  

    

We're aware of these media reports but I don't believe commenting further would be helpful as we do not wish to say anything t hat could compromise our colleagues'safety and their rapid and unconditional release.

We reiterate that any action undertaken should not jeopardise the safety of Eugenio, Mary Jean and Andreas.

    

 Have you heard from your colleagues recently and if so, how were they doing?  
 
We speak to Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas on a relatively regular basis and have had contact by phone several times this week, as has been the case throughout their ordeal. They sound like they're doing as well as can be expected and tell us they remain in good health.
 
Some days ago, all three were able to make individual phone calls to their loved ones. Obviously, it was a relief for our colleagues and their families to hear each other's voices. We feel very strongly that what was said between them should remain private and out of respect for their families, we will not comment further on these contacts. We hope that the media will also respect the families'privacy during this difficult time.
 

 What's the ICRC's reaction regarding the letter, allegedly written by the kidnappers, that was shown by the local authorities in Sulu on TV this week?  
 
We've seen the news report and images of the document circulating in the media but we haven't seen the document ourselves. We are in contact with the relevant authorities to determine the authenticity of the document.
 
Again, I can't comment beyond this as I would like to avoid saying anything that might jeopardize our colleagues'safety and efforts to secure their release.
 
For us, the most important thing continues to be that our colleagues are unharmed. We're doing all we can to ensure that they come home, safe and sound, as soon as possible.
 
Of course, this is a very delicate situation and I am obviously not in a position to go into details, but I would like to reiterate that the ICRC is grateful for all genuine efforts being made towards achieving a positive outcome to this crisis.

 
Can you comment on the article published in the Philippine media, which quotes both Andreas Notter and Mary Jean Lacaba?
 
 
We've taken note of the article. They are being held hostage, so we do not know the circumstances in which they spoke to the journalist. It would therefore be inappropriate to react or speculate on the quotes attributed to them.
 
Again, the safety and welfare of Eugenio, Andreas and Mary Jean is our top concern. Their families, colleagues and friends miss them very much.