Red Cross hostages in phone contact

Two employees of the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) being held hostage in the Philippines are still alive.

This content was published on April 15, 2009 - 21:03

An ICRC spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the two men, Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni, had spoken to their families by telephone on Sunday and with ICRC officials in the Philippines on Tuesday.

"We are glad to have been able to speak to them, but are still worried," Krimitsas told the Swiss news agency, SDA, but gave no further details. It was the organisation's first direct contact with the hostages since March 23.

The two men were seized on the island of Jolo, along with a Philippines colleague, exactly three months ago by militants of the Abu Sayyaf movement, which wants an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

At the end of March the militants stepped up pressure by threatening to behead one of the two men if their demand for a troop withdrawal from Jolo was not met.

However, on April 2, a few days after the deadline had passed, they released their third hostage.

Sources in the Philippines say Vagni, who is 62, is suffering from a hernia and is in urgent need of an operation. They say he has difficulty in walking, but his captors keep moving around to elude government troops.

The Philippines government was reported on Wednesday to have sent a group of Muslim clerics to try to persuade the militants to release Vagni on humanitarian grounds.

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