JOLO, Sulu, Philippines?Journalists covering the kidnapping of three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the province now have security escorts, courtesy of the military.
Major General Juancho Sabban, commander of the military-led Task Force Comet, said on Friday the soldiers would ensure the safety of the journalists while in the province.
A number of reporters arrived in Sulu following the kidnapping of Andreas Notter, Eugenio Vagni and Jean Lacaba by gunmen described by the police as members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Sabban said to prevent a repeat of last year's kidnapping of a television reporter and her crew, the military also barred journalists from venturing into areas deemed unsafe.
"They are only allowed to go as far as Jolo from Patikul, where they are staying," he said.
As if providing escorts to journalists was not enough, the military hauled them away from the Sulu State College Hostel in Patikul to the Marine detachment there.
Philippine Daily Inquirer photographer Edwin Bacasmas said it was about 10 p.m. on Thursday when their escorts woke them up and led them to a waiting Hummer vehicle.
"They politely advised us to pack up because we were moving to the Marine headquarters," Bacasmas said.
He said at the camp, they were told that the transfer was a precaution because suspicious-looking persons were seen near the hostel.
As this developed, a government source said Notter, Vagni and Lacaba had been sighted with their kidnappers somewhere in Indanan town.
The source, requesting anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said the captives' location was near a camp of the Moro National Liberation Front.
"Governor Abdusakur Tan is working with the MNLF. He even called up Khaid Adjibun (local MNLF commander) so they could jointly undertake efforts to address the situation," the source said.
However, the source said Tan had found working with the MNLF impossible because the former rebel group wanted to conduct direct negotiations with the kidnappers.
Tan had rejected any form of talks with the kidnappers, he said.
"They (MNLF) also want that pursuing troops maintain their distance so as not to hurt or harm the hostages," the source said.
Task Force ICRC spokesperson Fadzlur Abdulla said he was not aware of the MNLF?s involvement in efforts to obtain the hostages? release.
"I don't have any idea about that. The governor also didn't mention anything about joint efforts with the MNLF," Abdulla said.
Professor Octavio Dinampo, a peace advocate privy to the MNLF role in the efforts to secure the release of the victims, said an arrangement had already been agreed between the MNLF and the Task Force ICRC.
He also said that the "MNLF had sought a halt in the military operations in the area to avoid unnecessary irritants."
Dinampo said based on reports he has been getting, Notter has been separated from Vagni and Lacaba by their captors.
"Although we still have to get official confirmation, Notter was reportedly brought to Talipao while the two others are reportedly somewhere in Indanan town," he told the Inquirer by phone.
Dinampo said MNLF chairman Nur Misuari already "gave clearance to one of the ground commanders to go ahead with whatever modest aid the Sulu State Revolutionary Command can offer to the kidnappers so the victims could be released."