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Philippines: ICRC staff abducted for more than seven weeks

05-03-2009 Interview

Thursday 5 March marks 50 days since ICRC staff members Mary Jean Lacaba, Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter were abducted in the southern Philippines. The ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, Alain Aeschlimann, discusses the latest developments.

 Have you heard from your colleagues recently and how are they doing?  

The ICRC has not been in direct contact with Mary Jean, Andreas and Eugenio for the past two weeks. However, we did hear Eugenio speaking on the phone to a TV reporter today. We cannot but admire our colleagues'strength and resilience in dealing with this difficult situation. We believe that their health is stable, even though they are suffering from fatigue and stress.

Mary Jean, Andreas and Eugenio have already courageously endured 50 days of captivity. We do hope that this crisis will be over very soon and that they will be able to return home safe and sound.

 The chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Nur Misuari, has reportedly returned to Sulu to seek to resolve the current crisis. Is this true?  

Yes, we are aware that Mr Misuari went to Sulu and we hope this is a positive sign. We will not comment any further to avoid saying anything on our side that could jeopardize the safety of our colleagues or the chances of securing their rapid and unconditional release. The ICRC appreciates all genuine efforts from inside and outside the Red Cross to resolve this difficult situation.

 It's been 50 days since your three colleagues were kidnapped. How does that affect the atmosphere in the ICRC's delegation in the Philippines?  

Obviously, our colleagues in the Philippines are waiting, as are all ICRC s taff all over the world, for the day when Mary Jean, Andreas and Eugenio will be back with us again. Despite the stress of knowing that their colleagues are being held hostage, the team on the ground is continuing its important work on behalf of those in need. Together with the Philippine National Red Cross, which has been immensely supportive throughout the crisis, the ICRC is assisting people still living in displacement centres in Central Mindanao. Our health, water and sanitation programmes are continuing, as are our activities in prisons and detention centres throughout the country. We believe that these efforts are not going unnoticed.

Different initiatives have been taken in various parts of the country where people publicly expressed strong disagreement with the kidnapping and their solidarity both with our colleagues and with the ICRC and the Red Cross in general. The ICRC delegation in the Philippines has also been receiving messages of support from communities and individuals who value and appreciate the organization's neutral and impartial humanitarian work. For example, the detainees who benefit from improved hygiene thanks to the work of Mary Jean and Eugenio understand the importance of the ICRC's presence in the region, as do the families who have received sorely needed basic items or medical attention thanks to Andreas and his colleagues. These people are as impatient as we are to see Mary Jean, Andreas and Eugenio released, safe and unharmed.

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