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Philippines: Eugenio Vagni held hostage for more than five months

18-06-2009 Interview

Gunmen seized ICRC staff member Eugenio Vagni on 15 January and he is still being held on the Philippine island of Sulu. ICRC head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific Alain Aeschlimann comments on the current situation.

 Do you have any recent news from Eugenio?  

I’m afraid not. The last time he was able to contact his wife was two weeks ago, on 2 June. As ever, we’re very worried about Eugenio. We hope we will hear from him soon and that he’s okay.

Military clashes resulting in numerous casualties took place in Sulu last week. That kind of news always leaves us very concerned for Eugenio’s safety, because we don’t know where he is. And of course we’re concerned about the fate of any civilians in the area who are affected by the fighting. Our concern also extends to the people who are working to bring about Eugenio’s release. We regret the loss of civilian life and express our sympathies to the families of those killed in the line of duty.

 What else can you do about this crisis?  

This crisis has kept Eugenio's family, his friends and the ICRC under immense pressure over the past five months. I hope that Eugenio will be free very soon. None of us will be able to rest until then.

We are maintaining contact with everyone involved in efforts to resolve this crisis, in particular the local and national authorities. We emphasize once again that Eugenio's safety is our primary concern.

 How does Eugenio's captivity affect the forthcoming Red Cross celebrations?  

The month of June has been declared Red Cross month in the Philippines, as 24 June mar ks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Solferino, a city in northern Italy. The lack of medical care for soldiers wounded in this battle prompted Swiss citizen Henry Dunant to create a humanitarian organization, later known as the ICRC, which is at the origin of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

On 24 June, millions of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and staff will gather worldwide to support the ideals of humanity. In the Philippines, the ICRC and the Philippine National Red Cross will open a photo exhibition entitled Our World - At War in Manila, in order to draw attention to the humanitarian challenges of today and to motivate each one of us to “make a move” to help others.

However, anything we do in the Philippines has the bitter taste of this unresolved crisis. For the past 150 years, the ICRC's job has been to assist the victims of war across the globe. Eugenio went to the Philippines to work in the spirit of Henry Dunant. It hurts to see people who respond to crisis with purely humanitarian intentions become the victims. We hope the kidnappers will heed our repeated appeals and release Eugenio safe and sound, immediately and unconditionally.