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Philippines: ICRC continues efforts to secure release of abducted staff members Andreas Notter and Eugenio Vagni

08-04-2009 Interview

ICRC staff members Andreas Notter and Eugenio Vagni are still being held in the Philippines. Fellow captive Mary Jean Lacaba was released on 2 April. The ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, Alain Aeschlimann, comments on the current situation.

 Has the ICRC received information about the situation of Andreas Notter and Eugenio Vagni since the release of Mary Jean Lacaba on 2 April?  

    

While we are relieved that Mary Jean is now back with her family, we remain very concerned about Andreas and Eugenio. For them, the ordeal is not over. Our thoughts go out to their families, friends and colleagues, who continue to experience enormous hardship. It is obvious that the numerous daily rumours and media reports of the last two weeks have been and remain psychologically very difficult to deal with for all of them.

The last direct news we received from Andreas and Eugenio reached us through Mary Jean, who saw them just before she was released on 2 April. She told us they were okay.

However, we remain concerned about their safety, which is of paramount importance to us. We are asking once again all those who are involved in this crisis to avoid taking any action that could put them at risk.

    

We are also renewing our appeal to the abductors to spare the lives of Eugenio and Andreas and to let them go safe and sound, without delay and unconditionally.

    

 Can you tell us about what the ICRC is doing on the ground to solve the hostage crisis?  

    

We remain hopeful that a positive resolution of the crisis can be achieved and are sparing no effort to this end. We maintain close contact with all those involved in trying to find a solution to this crisis, in particular the local and national authorities.

Lots of people are working behind the scenes and we are grateful for all genuine efforts to find a solution. The release of Mary Jean is a first positive move. But we won't go into more detail about ongoing efforts to secure our colleagues'release, in order not to jeopardize such endeavours.

    

 What can you tell us about the displacement of the civilian population in Sulu?  

    

We are concerned about the reports we have received about this. As a consequence of the kidnapping of our colleagues, we suspended our activities in Sulu and therefore do not have first-hand information. However, we are in contact with the authorities and the Philippine National Red Cross and are exploring ways of addressing the unmet needs of displaced persons.

    

 Some media have reported that there have been ransom demands. What is your comment?  

Throughout the crisis, there have been numerous reports in the media of a ransom being demanded or paid. None of them was borne out.

I would like to make it very clear that since the very beginning of the hostage crisis the ICRC has never received any such demands. Up to now, so far as we know, the kidnappers have only been repeating their demand for a pullout of troops. In media interview s they have repeatedly denied they were asking for a ransom. We recently heard further reports of such denials.

I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that, as a matter of policy, the ICRC does not pay ransoms when its staff are kidnapped. Making exceptions to such longstanding policy might endanger the ICRC's security and its capacity to work in conflict zones and other sensitive areas in many countries, including the Philippines.

We do not want to discuss this further, as it is simply impossible to comment on every rumour that appears in the public domain.

We strongly hope that Eugenio and Andreas will be released without delay and unconditionally.