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Red Cross hostages threatened with death

THREE Red Cross workers held captive in the Philippines fear their al-Qaida-linked captors will make good on a threat to behead one of them unless Philippine troops pull back, one of the hostages said by phone from the militant-infested southern jungles.

The military has rejected the ultimatum, saying the gunmen cannot be trusted.

"Time is running out," Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba told ABS-CBN television by cell phone late on Wednesday. She appealed to the Philippine government to act quickly to end the 10-week standoff.

Lacaba said she and her two European colleagues from the International Committee of the Red Cross ?? Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni ?? were afraid for their lives "every minute, every second because we don't know when a firefight will suddenly start."

Their ordeal entered a critical stage this week after Albader Parad, a key commander with the Abu Sayyaf militant group, threatened to behead a hostage if troops did not withdraw from the group's jungle stronghold near Indanan town on Jolo island.

Jolo Governor Abdusakur Tan said the militants told a government emissary the deadline for the troops to withdraw to Jolo town is Tuesday. The military swiftly rejected the demand.

The militants reneged on a pledge to free a hostage last week after nearby troops complied with their initial demand to move back, military chief General Alexander Yano said.

The Red Cross, saying it was "extremely concerned" about the hostages' safety, urged the military to consider the withdrawal demand.

"We also reiterate our call to the Philippine authorities to do everything in their power to save the lives of the hostages and not to take any action that could put our colleagues at risk," Alain Aeschlimann, the group's head of operations for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said on the Red Cross' Website.

But a military spokesman said troops might be forced to launch an assault if the militants harm the hostages.


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