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Philippines: ICRC presses on with efforts to secure release of kidnapped staff member Eugenio Vagni

28-05-2009 Interview

ICRC staff member Eugenio Vagni was seized by armed gunmen on 15 January – more than four months ago – and he is still being held captive. The ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, Alain Aeschlimann, comments on the current situation.

 When was the last time you heard from Eugenio?  

Eugenio called his wife on Sunday, 24 May. Each brief contact like this brings immense relief for Eugenio's family, but at the same time heightens the distress they feel over his continuing captivity. It is impossible to imagine the pain and anguish they are going through. We are keenly aware of the distress they are feeling and hope this nightmare will soon be over. We hope they will soon be holding Eugenio in their arms again. We try to comfort them, but only Eugenio's release will bring any real relief.

At the ICRC, we are extremely concerned about Eugenio's safety and well-being. The fact that he has already been held captive for 134 days and that the situation is still unresolved is very distressing to us – all the more so because he has medical problems.

 Other hostages were released this week in the Philippines. Does that bring you any hope that Eugenio will also be released soon?  

We have no way of knowing when he will be released. In the current circumstances, it is very difficult to know where he is, although that is the subject of a lot of speculation in the media.

The other people who have been kidnapped in the southern Philippines in recent weeks are always in our thoughts. We are of course very happy about the news that other hostages have been released. We hope that Eugenio, too, will soon be free.

We strongly disapprove of all acts of kidnapping, which trample on fundamental hum anitarian principles and international law. We understand the pain of all abducted persons and their relatives, and feel strong solidarity with them.

 What else can the ICRC do in this situation?  

We are sparing no effort to bring about Eugenio's release. This crisis has gone on for far too long. We are in close contact with everyone involved in efforts to resolve the crisis, in particular the local and national authorities. We remain hopeful that the outcome of these efforts will be positive.

Our priority is to ensure that Eugenio remains safe and that he is let go without any further delay and without conditions. It would not be helpful to discuss the ongoing efforts in detail.

 What consequences does the kidnapping have for the ICRC's operations in the Philippines?  

Despite the crisis, the ICRC continues its assistance and protection activities in the conflict-affected areas, particularly in Central Mindanao, where we are distributing food and essential household items to around 160,000 people who were forced to flee their homes because of the fighting.