Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Troops clash with Abus holding aid worker

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines—Troops clashed with Islamic extremists holding hostage a sick Italian Red Cross worker in the southern province of Sulu as the crisis entered its 99th day Thursday, the military said.

There were no immediate details of casualties and no word on the fate of Eugenio Vagni, 62, who intelligence reports earlier said was unable to walk due to a hernia.

The fighting took place Wednesday as the Abu Sayyaf group holding Vagni tried to escape from a jungle area on the island of Jolo, military spokesman Brigadier General Gaudencio Pangilinan told reporters in Manila.

"It was a big group, about 50 of them," Pangilinan said of the Abu Sayyaf unit, adding they were carrying high-powered firearms including rocket launchers.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno confirmed the fighting and said troops have set up naval blockades near Jolo's coastal villages to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from escaping by sea.

"We have to pursue them and remain close to them to make sure they will not escape," he said.

He said the rebels holding Vagni were trying to reach the town of Talipao, where they were said to be planning to merge with a bigger Abu Sayyaf command entrenched in the area.

Vagni was abducted along with fellow International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) colleagues Andreas Notter of Switzerland and Mary Jean Lacaba of the Philippines in mid-January while on a humanitarian mission in the area.

Lacaba was freed on April 2 while Notter was safely recovered by authorities on April 18.

There have been mounting fears that the increasingly desperate Abu Sayyaf group may try to harm Vagni as they evade troops in the jungle.

The Geneva-based ICRC on Wednesday said it was "extremely worried" for Vagni and repeated a call for his immediate and unconditional release.

"We have serious concern for his worsening health condition," ICRC operations director Pierre Kraehenbuehl told a news conference.

Notter, who also spoke at the press conference, said he last saw Vagni on April 16, the day the militants separated them and moved in smaller groups.

He said it rained constantly in the tropical jungle and the harsh condition took its toll on the hostages physically and mentally.

"I am very concerned about my colleague, Eugenio Vagni, particularly because of his health," Notter said. "He has a hernia which is making it difficult for him to walk."

In an intelligence report Wednesday, the military said Vagni was unable to walk and was being carried by his captors.

The Abu Sayyaf was founded in the 1990s ostensibly to fight for an independent Islamic state. The group later branched off into high-profile abductions and bombings and is on the US government's list of wanted foreign terrorist organizations.(Agence France-Presse)

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