Philippines: Andreas appeals for Eugenio's release
22-04-2009 Press Briefing
ICRC employee Andreas Notter has spoken of his relief at being free after 93 days in captivity in the Philippines. He has also appealed for his abductors to release their last remaining ICRC hostage, Eugenio Vagni. The three ICRC employees were kidnapped on 15 January after a routine visit to Jolo Provincial jail.
At a press conference at the ICRC's headquarters in Geneva, Andreas Notter spoke of his joy and relief at being back home. He thanked friends, family and colleagues as well as the authorities in the Philippines and Switzerland for their support during his ordeal and their efforts to secure his release.
" I deeply appreciate the friendship of unknown friends who I've never met. Coming out of the jungle, I realized how many people were thinking of us, praying for us, caring for us. "
But his happiness at being free is tinged with regret that his colleague, Eugenio Vagni, is still being held after almost 100 days.
" I am very concerned about my colleague, Eugenio Vagni, particularly because of his health. He has a hernia, which is making it difficult for him to walk. "
He said he last saw Eugenio around 16 April when they were separated. He appealed for Eugenio to be released so that he could receive the necessary medical attention.
Andreas Notter said that he, Eugenio and Mary Jean had been well treated by their abductors during their period of captivity but that the jungle conditions were difficult to cope with, with lots of heavy rain among the challenges facing them.
Their day typically began at around 5.30 in the morning with the call to prayer waking them up. Breakfast consisted of tea or coffee and rice porridge. When they were not on the move, they filled their time by t alking, playing cards and carrying out routine tasks such as washing clothes, preparing dinner or chopping firewood.
When possible they also talked of the ICRC's activities with their captors, trying to make them understand that they were in the region purely to help those affected by the fighting.
Pressure and fear
There were also moments of extreme pressure and fear, he explained.
" When we came under fire – there were encounters – this was not easy to handle. " He said that he had also taken very seriously the death threats made by the kidnappers.
There were also times when they had to move very quickly from their established spot.
" Sometimes we had to pack up within seconds and we knew if we could not we would not be able to take some of our things with us. "
The times they were able to speak with their families over the telephone became extremely precious to the three captives, giving them hope that everything possible was being done to seek their safe return.
Moment of freedom
Andreas Notter explained that the way he became free was still confusing to him.
While walking with his captors through the jungle during the night, he said there was an unexpected moment when he realized he was alone. He managed to find a way out of the jungle and as he emerged the first person he saw was a local villager.
Future with the ICRC
For the moment, spending time with friends and family is the priority for Andreas but he said he wishes to continue working for the ICRC in the future.
At the press conference, ICRC director of operations Pierre Krähenbühl stressed that the ICRC had paid no money for the release of either of the two hostages.
" The ICRC has never, throughout the entire duration of the crisis, been confronted with a request for a ransom. ICRC policy is that we do not pay ransoms. "
"Let Eugenio return home"
Mr Krähenbühl thanked all those who had helped bring Andreas Notter home including the Philippine National Red Cross Society and its Chairman, Senator Richard Gordon, the Philippine and Swiss authorities at a local and national level and ICRC colleagues in the Philippines and Geneva.
He said the ICRC had continued its operations for people displaced by fighting in the region throughout the crisis and that this would continue.
Finally, he appealed again for the immediate and unconditional release of Eugenio Vagni.
" Let Eugenio return home. "