Al-Qaida-linked militants holding three international Red Cross workers in the southern Philippines have rejected talks with a former Muslim rebel leader tapped by the government to negotiate their release.
Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad said in a telephone interview with ABS-CBN television late on Thursday that unless the military pulls out of Jolo island jungles, where the hostages have been held for 50 days, his group would not negotiate.
The military has rejected such demands but so far troops have refrained from launching a rescue for fear of hurting the hostages _ Swiss Andreas Notter, Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba and Italian Eugenio Vagni.
In its latest attempt to secure their freedom, the Philippine government sent Nur Misuari, founder of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front, to Jolo, but he has not able to talk to the abductors.
Vagni told ABS-CBN that they were getting weak because of the difficult conditions they were living in. He appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross "to do their best to really do something to free us."
Alain Aeschlimann, the head of Red Cross Asia-Pacific operations, said the health of the hostages appeared stable, even though they suffer from fatigue and stress.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 members, is on a US list of terrorist organizations for its links to al-Qaida and involvement in kidnappings, bombings and beheadings.
Officials say the guerrillas may have resorted to a rash of kidnappings to raise badly needed funds after they lost most connections to foreign financiers when many of their commanders were killed in US-backed offensives.