Islamist militants holding captive three staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are planning to demand at least $5 million in ransom for their hostages' freedom, military sources said on Sunday.
According to military intelligence sources, Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba are being held in the jungles of Indanan town on Jolo island, 1,000 km south of Manila.
The kidnappers, estimated to number 25, are led by rebel commander Albader Parad and Akmad Jumdail alias Dr. Abu Pula of the Islamist Abu Sayyaf group.
The sources said "Parad is planning to demand $5 million while Abu is reportedly planning a still unknown political demand" for the safe release of the ICRC team, who were abducted Jan 15.
The Philippine military officially declined to comment on the information or give updates about efforts to rescue the three abducted ICRC staff.
"We are suspending operational updates on the military's efforts on the kidnapping," said military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres.
"This is being done to avoid the possibility of compromising our operations and unnecessarily risking the safety of the victims," he added.
Abdusakur Tan, governor of the Sulu province, which includes Jolo island, said he was heading a coordinating centre that was overseeing the hostage situation.
But he also refused to give out updates on the kidnapping.
"I cannot say at the moment because we have many plans and we don't want to reveal our actions," he said, when asked if the kidnappers have made contact or issued any demands.
Tan urged the ICRC not to negotiate directly with the kidnappers, saying this would be "costly".
On Saturday, the ICRC said the three staff had been able to call their office and told colleagues that they were unharmed.
The agency has declined to say if ransom has been demanded for the ICRC staff, who were in Jolo to oversee a water and sanitation project in the provincial jail when they were abducted.
Jean-Daniel Tauxe, head of the ICRC delegation in Manila, said the agency had no additional information about the whereabouts of the abducted staff or who is holding them.
"We are not in a position to comment further, since our main priority is ensuring that nothing jeopardizes their safety, but it goes without saying that their families, as well as their colleagues, are hoping for their safe and swift return," he said.
The Al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf rebel group has been responsible for deadly terrorist attacks in the Philippines.
It is also notorious for high-profile kidnapping-for-ransom cases, including the abduction of 21 European tourists and Asian workers from a Malaysian resort island in 2000.