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Red Cross: Abducted aid workers in Philippines still alive

THE three abducted aid workers with International Committee of the Red Cross in southern Philippines are still alive, said a spokesperson of ICRC delegation to the country today.

"We have got reliable information that our colleagues are still alive," Anna Nelson, acting spokesperson of ICRC office in the Philippines, said.

However, she said that she was not in the position to say more on the issue and was waiting for communications with ICRC's headquarters in Geneva within a couple of hours.

Three ICRC staff members, including two foreigners and one local employee, was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on their way to Jolo airport in Sulu province Thursday morning after conducting a sanitation project at Sulu provincial jail.

Nelson said that a crisis team has been set up in Geneva and is closely working with the delegation in the Philippines to ensure the safe return of Swiss Andreas Notter, head of ICRC delegation in Zamboanga, Eugenio Vagni of Italy and Filipina Jean Lacaba.

Meanwhile, she said the Red Cross operation in Mindanao, especially efforts to assist tens of thousands of conflict displaced residents in central Mindanao, has not been suspended in the wake of abduction incident.

"The only project being affected is the jail water and sanitation project in Sulu, for obvious reasons," Nelson said, adding that Red Cross employees' safety is always a priority and on top of everything.

Though the Philippine authority tagged extremist group Abu Sayyaf as the prime suspect, security forces on Saturday have yet to receive ransom demands from the abductors.

Senior Superintendent Danilo Bacas, a local spokesperson for the police in the region, said that the hunt for the kidnappers is going on, and there is no word of the abductors' identities or the victims' whereabout.

An official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest rebel group that offers the help to hunt down abductors, said the latest information they got was the captives are being transferred from one island to another in the insurgency-infested Sulu islands.

The Philippine government has ordered the country's military and police to step up rescue operations and appealed to locals for information that would lead to the international aid workers' safe release.


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