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Red Cross seeks safe return of workers -

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Reporter: Karen Barlow

ELEANOR HALL: The International Red Cross is appealing to the humanity of an al-Qaeda linked
Islamist group which is holding three of its workers hostage in the Philippines and is threatening
to kill them.

The rebel group Abu Sayyaf abducted the Italian, Swiss and Philippines nationals in January on the
remote southern island of Jolo. It reportedly asked for a ransom of $1-million to release the three
aid workers but is now threatening to behead them.

Karen Barlow has our report.

KAREN BARLOW: Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni
were captured by Abu Sayyaf rebels on the island of Jolo on January the 15th. They had just
inspected a local prison and were on their way to the airport when they were taken by men on
motorcycles.

Abu Sayyaf has been seeking $1-million for their return but two months after the initial capture
the Government's response this week was to mount a rescue attempt. Three soldiers and two militants
died in the resulting fire fight. The Red Cross workers are still captive and the rebel leader
Albader Parad is clearly unhappy.

ALBADER PARAD (translated): Remember, if they pursue operations and they come close to us and
another fire fight erupts, I will behead one of the group of Red Cross hostages.

KAREN BARLOW: The leader of Abu Sayyaf rebels made the threat in an interview with a local Sulu
Province religious radio station.

ALBADER PARAD (translated): You know when I say something I do it. I have not said anything that I
didn't act on. Remember, if a fire fight happens and it reaches us here in Sulu, you will just
receive the news that one of the Red Cross members has been beheaded. I will say goodbye now.

KAREN BARLOW: The International Red Cross is extremely concerned about the safety of their three
workers. The ICRC's Anastasia Isyuk is a Manila-based spokeswoman.

ANASTASIA ISYUK: We have not had direct contact with our colleagues since Wednesday 11th of March.
We hope to be in direct contact with them and you know to receive information that they're okay.

KAREN BARLOW: The Red Cross has found the talk of beheading the three disturbing.

ANASTASIA ISYUK: We appeal to their sense of humanity. We ask them to avoid taking any action that
could endanger the lives of our colleagues and release them quickly.

KAREN BARLOW: It's thought to be the first time that Abu Sayyaf has abducted Red Cross workers, but
it's not the first hostage drama for the militant group and it has beheaded captives before.

Another group of Abu Sayyaf killed American Guillermo Sobero in 2001 after negotiations broke down
with authorities.

While they want money, counter terrorism expert Professor Clive Williams from Macquarie University
says they also have another agenda.

CLIVE WILLIAMS: Well in the past Abu Sayyaf has not normally beheaded non-Catholics. You know part
of their rationale is to drive Christians and particularly Catholics out of the southern
Philippines area and to do that at times they have beheaded Catholics, particularly people like
missionaries in order to scare immigrants that have come from other parts of the Philippines to
leave the area.

KAREN BARLOW: What sort of group is Abu Sayyaf now in 2009? It's variously described as previously
tied with al-Qaeda, it's seeking an Islamic state.

CLIVE WILLIAMS: It's seeking a fundamentalist state in the southern Philippines. I doubt that it's
had any contact with al-Qaeda for probably about five years now.

But because it's based on several islands it tends to be perhaps broken down in a cellular sense;
you know there are local leaders who are dominant on different islands and often there isn't much
cooperation or liaison between them. And so it's often hard to know why a group on one island is
doing something which may seem to be at variance with the overall objectives of the group.

KAREN BARLOW: The Philippines authorities say peaceful avenues for the return of the three workers
are still open.

ELEANOR HALL: Karen Barlow reporting.