Hopes fade for Philippines release

Hostages hit out at "catastophic" military offensive against kidnappers in Jolo island.

    Philippine troops had said they would pull back from their offensive to allow for the hostage release [EPA]

    Earlier this week the military said at least three soldiers and three fighters were killed in fierce clashes on a remote part of Jolo as the government stepped up its offensive against the group.

    "We came to the Philippines to do something good. Why do we have to die?"

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    The fighting led to a threat from a man claiming to be an Abu Sayyaf commander that the group would behead one of the hostages unless the military pulled back.

    On Friday a report quoted the three hostages hitting out at the Philippine armed forces, accusing military commanders and the government of putting their lives in danger.

    The report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Andreas Notter, a Swiss national, as saying the military's offensive had created a "catastrophic" situation.

    "One more attack [and] they are going to kill us," he said.

    'These guys came to kill us'

    Notter made the comments in an emotionally charged phone conversation on Thursday between the three hostages and Richard Gordon, a senator and the head of the Philippines Red Cross.

    "The situation is very bad. It is catastrophic!," the Inquirer quoted Notter as saying.

    "I really cannot understand what your government is doing. Rescue? The government sent the military to rescue us? No! These guys came to kill us, have us killed, not rescue us!"

    The ICRC workers have been held captive since mid-January [AFP]
    Another hostage, Eugenio Vagni, an Italian national, said the Philippines government had shown it had no interest in their safety.

    "Why does the government want us to die? I don’t understand! I don’t understand!" he was quoted as saying.

    "I am strong. We are strong. But what is the government doing? We came to the Philippines to do something good. Why do we have to die?"

    During Thursday's phone call all three hostages were allowed to speak to the Philippines Red Cross chief, who urged them to remain strong and stay calm, the Inquirer reported.

    But Mary Jean Lacaba, the Filipino hostage and the only woman in the group, said it was "difficult to remain calm if your life is constantly on the line".

    Describing being caught in the crossfire between the kidnappers and the military, she said: "You don’t know where a bullet will hit you… your head, your back … you can see the fire fight."

    "We have been here for 64 days," she said. "I don’t know if we are ever going to be free."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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