Philippines halts any rescue of Red Cross hostages | world | Hindustan Times
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Philippines halts any rescue of Red Cross hostages

world Updated: Feb 14, 2009 15:05 IST

A Philippines official said on Saturday he has ordered the military against attempts to rescue three Red Cross workers being held hostage by Islamic militants that might endanger their lives.

Abdusakur Tan, who heads a task force trying to obtain the release of the hostages, said he told security forces the safety of the trio was paramount.

"There should be no rescue because the safety of the hostages is the top concern," said Tan in Jolo city, capital of the Sulu island chain of which he is governor.

Tan said military and police forces would continue to block all escape routes for the gang holding Andreas Notter of Switzerland, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Mary-Jean Lacaba from the Philippines.

The gang has been isolated within a four-square-kilometre (1.54-square-mile) area of dense jungle on Jolo island.

The rebels, believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf Islamic militant group, on Monday clashed with government security forces maintaining a safety cordon around the area, wounding 11 soldiers.

The troops have been tightening the cordon and civilians have been evacuated, raising expectations a military assault is imminent.

The hostages, seized on January 15 while on a humanitarian mission in Jolo, are not believed to have been harmed in the fighting.

Meanwhile about a thousand residents of Jolo held a rally to denounce a spate of kidnappings in the southern Philippines, largely blamed on various Muslim extremist groups.

The protesters, including many local Muslim leaders, waved banners saying "We denounce the Abu Sayyaf" and "Enough is enough, no more kidnappings".

The Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the Al-Qaeda terror network, is known for kidnappings and bomb attacks on Christians and foreigners.

The latest kidnapping saw a Sri Lankan Muslim peace activist seized in the nearby island of Basilan on Friday.