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Philippine military: Swiss hostage "escapes" to freedom after captors cornered
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11:07, April 19, 2009

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The Swiss Red Cross hostage recovered by security forces in south Philippines had actually "escaped" to freedom after his militant captors were cornered by the military, officials said Saturday.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, also the chair of the hostage crisis committee, told reporters that Andrea Notter, 38, escaped at a time when the group of Abu Sayyaf militants holding him were in a hurry to dodge pursuing government soldiers.

"Notter was able to run to the direction where the police and the pro-government civilian militia were. Realizing that they can be enveloped by soldiers from the high ground, the militants decided to abandon Notter," Tan said.

Rescued Red Cross worker Andreas Notter of Switzerland appears before the press on southern Jolo island in the Philippines, hours after he was rescued by security forces on April 18. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

He said the military presence was just around 500 meters away when Notter escaped.

The Swiss was picked up by security forces in Indanan town of Sulu at about 05:30 Saturday (0930 GMT), Lt. Col. Edgard A. Arevalo, the military spokesman said.

Three employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were snatched by Abu Sayyaf militants on Jan. 15 in Patikul town of Sulu after they inspected a jail project there. Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba was freed unharmed on April 2. Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62, who has reportedly developed hernia, remains in the captive.

"We remain concerned with the condition of Vagni," Arevalo said, adding that because of the medical condition, Vagni "may not be as lucky and quick as Notter to seize the chance to escape."

Citing the debriefing of Notter, Arevalo said the military pressure "kept the terrorists on their toes moving around the constricted area up to 20-30 kilometers of trek a day."

"The situation is ripe for the release of Vagni," he said, adding that the militants are running out of their financial, personnel and materials resources.

Founded in the early 1990s by Islamic extremists, the Abu Sayyaf group is on the United States' list of terrorist organizations and is notorious for kidnappings, bombings and even beheadings in the Southeast Asian country over the past decade.

The Abu Sayyaf has repeatedly threatened to behead the hostages as they did in the past.

"We are, of course, very relieved that Andreas will soon be back in the arms of his loved ones," said Alain Aeschlimann, the ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific. "But we remain very concerned about Eugenio's safety and we call on the abductors to let him go safely, immediately and unconditionally."

In a statement posted on the organization's website, Aeschlimann said Notter is being looked after by colleagues from the ICRC.

"He is safe, well and happy that he will soon be back with his family," he said.

Source: Xinhua

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