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Red Cross hostage released in Philippines

AL-QAIDA-LINKED militants yesterday released one of three Red Cross hostages who had been held captive for 10 weeks in the Philippines, officials said.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said that Filipino worker Mary Jean Lacaba, 37, was safe in the hands of government officials on the southern island of Jolo, where the trio were threatened with beheading earlier this week.

"She's alive and well," said Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine Red Cross. "I'm really very elated. I'm so happy and had a good cry. I hope we can get the other two."

Jolo Vice Governor Lady Anne Sahidulla, who claimed to have secured Lacaba's release in talks with the militants yesterday, said she saw the other two hostages - Italian Eugenio Vagni and Swiss national Andreas Notter. "They're OK. They escorted (Lacaba)."

Lacaba was shown on Filipino television being pushed in a wheelchair to a trauma clinic in the Jolo military camp. She wore a red Muslim headdress and was talking on a cell phone.

Gordon refused to say what led to Lacaba's release, saying, "At least we have one. Maybe the other two will be freed later, hopefully."

The Red Cross workers were seized on January 15 after visiting a Red Cross water-sanitation project at the Jolo provincial jail.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the kidnappers were moving within a 15-square-kilometer area of jungle that was drenched in rain, making travel and living conditions difficult. The gunmen could not readily abandon the hilly area because it has been their only source of drinking water in the jungle.

"Although there has been no offensive action taken against them, they have absolutely no possibility of getting away from the area," he said.

He said the focus of government efforts was to make sure that kidnappers "head back in the direction of negotiation with anyone."

The Abu Sayyaf group has beheaded hostages in the past, including an American in 2001 as well as seven Filipinos in 2007.


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