Palace welcomes local, foreign help to free ICRC volunteers

April 18, 2009 2:00 am 

MANILA, April 17 — Malacanang today said it welcomes all support – both local and foreign – to the ongoing efforts to secure the safe release of the two foreign volunteers of the International Committee on the Red Cross held hostage by Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu.

But Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the government stood pat on its decision that such assistance would take the cue from the Local Crisis Management Committee (LCMC) headed by Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan.

In his regular Friday media briefing in Malacanang, Remonde said the Palace remained optimistic that with the help of the “Muslim Bishop-Ulamas (religious leaders) Conference, “we can see the successful end of this crisis.”

He said the “entry of no less than Muslim religious leaders in these negotiations is definitely welcome. We are optimistic that they will be a big help, Muslim spiritual leaders that they are.”

“Our policy is that the LCMC is the one designated to work things on the ground with the Abu Sayyaf Group and the police and Armed Forces will just take the cue from the LCMC,” Remonde said.

“Everybody is welcome to help us as long as they will work hand-in-hand with the LCMC,” he added.

The United States, through Deputy Envoy and Political Affairs Counselor Thomas Gibbons, has reportedly expressed its willingness to help free the two ASG hostages.

Asked if the Palace would support the pronouncement of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno that the police may yield to the ASG’s demand to pull out from some areas in Sulu, Remonde said, “We have designated him as the national government’s representative on the ground. He has the right to make such a decision.”

On the move by the international community to pay ransom for the release of the two foreign hostages for humanitarian reasons, Remonde said, “we will stand pat on our no ransom policy. Otherwise, we will be like Somalia, where hostage-taking has become a lucrative business.”

One of the hostages is reportedly critically ill and needs to undergo surgery.

On whether or not Sulu Vice Gov. Lady Ann Sahidulla has been taken out of the LCMC, Remonde said: “No she still plays a very active part in the negotiation process.” (PNA)

RMA/OPS/ssc

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