Philippines: ICRC staff still held hostage after 10 weeks

Thursday 26 March marks 71 days since ICRC workers Mary Jean Lacaba, Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter were abducted in the southern Philippines. The ICRC’s head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, Alain Aeschlimann, comments on the current situation.

Have you heard from your colleagues recently? How are they doing?

Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas were able to speak with their families on Sunday, 22 March, and made contact with the ICRC the following day.

Our colleagues are aware of the latest threats and demands made by the abductors. This has obviously increased the stress and hardship they are experiencing, especially following the tragic events of last week.

I cannot stress enough that Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas are going through an extremely difficult time. They are tired, both physically and emotionally. We continue to hope that this ordeal will be over as soon as possible and that they will be back with their families.

What is the ICRC’s reaction to the abductors’ latest demands?

We are extremely concerned about the fate of our colleagues. Their safety is of paramount importance.

Following the kidnappers’ renewed threats, the ICRC once again appeals to the abductors’ sense of humanity and asks them to avoid taking any action that could endanger the lives of Mary Jean, Eugenio and Andreas.

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. In particular, we urge the government to refrain from further military operations in the area.

In the interest of our three staff, the ICRC asks the authorities to consider the kidnappers’ demands regarding the position of troops.

The family of Andreas Notter have called on the Swiss government to do more to help free your colleagues and to exert pressure on the Philippine government to sort this crisis out. Does the ICRC support their appeal?

We fully understand the families’ outrage that this crisis has gone on for so long. It is perfectly understandable that the families of Mary Jean, Andreas and Eugenio would want to do everything in their power to get their loved ones back. Any parent, spouse, child or sibling in their situation would feel the same way.

The ICRC is doing everything it can to resolve this crisis. There are a lot of people working behind the scenes to make that happen and we are grateful for all genuine efforts to find a solution. We are in regular contact with the relevant authorities in Bern, Manila and Rome and they are kept abreast of developments.

I’m not in a position to go into more detail on these discussions or ongoing efforts to secure our colleagues’ release because I don’t want to complicate these efforts. But I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate our appeal to the kidnappers to let Mary Jean, Andreas and Eugenio go as quickly as possible and without conditions.

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